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Why technology matters as much as science in improving healthcare

Robert J Szczerba1 and Marco D Huesch234*

Author Affiliations

1 Lockheed Martin Corporation, Owego, NY 13827, USA

2 USC Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, 90089-7273, USA

3 USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-7273, USA

4 Health Sector Management Area, Duke Fuqua School of Business, Durham, NC 27708, USA

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2012, 12:103  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-12-103

Published: 10 September 2012



More than half a million new items of biomedical research are generated every year and added to Medline. How successful are we at applying this steady accumulation of scientific knowledge and so improving the practice of medicine in the USA?


The conventional wisdom is that the US healthcare system is plagued by serious cost, access, safety and quality weaknesses. A comprehensive solution must involve the better translation of an abundance of clinical research into improved clinical practice.

Yet the application of knowledge (i.e. technology) remains far less well funded and less visible than the generation, synthesis and accumulation of knowledge (i.e. science), and the two are only weakly integrated. Worse, technology is often seen merely as an adjunct to practice, e.g. electronic health records.

Several key changes are in order. A helpful first step lies in better understanding the distinction between science and technology, and their complementary strengths and limitations. The absolute level of funding for technology development must be increased as well as being more integrated with traditional science-based clinical research. In such a mission-oriented federal funding strategy, the ties between basic science research and applied research would be better emphasized and strengthened.


It bears repeating that only by applying the wealth of existing and future scientific knowledge can healthcare delivery and patient care ever show significant improvement.