Skip to main content

How About an X Prize for Healthcare?

 |  By Philip Betbeze  
   February 11, 2011

We all recognize that healthcare has lots of problems. To name a few, it's too expensive, it often harms patients rather than heals them, and it's highly inefficient.

So what? Lots of people think they have solutions and lots of others feel like many of healthcare's problems are unsolvable. But I disagree. People once thought that circumnavigating the globe was impossible. They also thought that about transatlantic solo flight and putting a man on the moon. Yet all of these things happened.

In some cases, the process of achieving these high-profile goals was helped along by either massive government spending or prize competitions. We've got the massive government spending in healthcare, and so far, it hasn't achieved the goal of a safe, quick, efficient healthcare system. So why not go the prize route?

Perhaps you've heard of the X Prize. That's a brand name, but such prizes for being the first to achieve big, audacious goals such as Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic jaunt have been commonplace for more than a century. More recently, the Ansari X Prize was awarded for Burt Rutan's development of a vehicle that can carry three individuals to 100 kilometers above the earth's surface, twice within two weeks. He won $10 million for the effort. 

What about funding innovation in healthcare this way? It's not a big leap to consider a healthcare X Prize. First off, the X Prize Foundation has multiple prizes in play at any given time. Secondly, there already are X Prizes for healthcare—sort of. But they're really all about technological improvements in clinical products or healthcare research.

For instance, one of the more fascinating X Prizes available for Life Sciences is the Archon X Prize for Genomics. It will award $10 million to the first entity that can map 100 human genomes in 10 days. The prize is based on the idea that cheap and quick genomic analysis will allow physicians and other healthcare workers to quickly identify diseases for which a particular patient is susceptible, as well as treatments that might work better for those people than others.

The obstacles to this reality are currently the cost of mapping and the time necessary to do so. Thus, the 100 genomes in 10 days stipulation. This, and many other X Prizes, are valuable incentives to get people working on very difficult problems that currently have no solution.

However, and this is my point, there's not really anything available for those who would improve healthcare administration. We know that's where the waste is. But it's difficult to determine simple quantum leap-style criteria on which such an award would be based.

What would such a prize seek to reward? How would it be structured such that it is a sort of a race? How could such a prize garner the national spotlight the same way a race to orbit might?

I don't know. I don't have a clue as to how to structure a prize that would improve quality and lower cost in healthcare such that it could be objectively judged. Smarter people than me need to figure out the goals. All I know is that healthcare is drastically in need of innovation in this area, and perhaps an X-prize would lead to quicker progress on these fronts.

As I mentioned, X-prizes are for specific improvements. And having struck out on ideas myself, I'm looking for some interesting ideas from my readers. So please, if you have any, I'd be interested in getting this conversation off the ground. Please email me with any suggestions, and please keep out of the life sciences realm. As I mentioned, they already have several prizes there.

I'll share any ideas that seem interesting in a future column.  

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.

Tagged Under:

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.