Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Redesigning Technology for Global Health

This is an interesting story — GE redesigning an EKG machine (the last one of which they made in 1999) for a place like India. The have also been advertising a lot on TV – I was able to find the ad on YouTube which is pretty cool. Four things immediately struck me:

1) The accomplishment – Cost reduction from $10,000 to $1500 in under 2 years and weight from 15lbs to 3lbs!

2) The original machine took 3.5 years and $5.4 million to develop. Compared to drug development this is minuscule. Making devices is generally orders of magnitude cheaper, far quicker to develop and face far fewer regulatory hurdles (FDA). So why didn’t this happen sooner?

3) This is great for India, but what about for use in the US (especially for community clinics and in rural areas)?

4) Let’s not forget that the introduction of any “new” technology will have unintended social consequences which are sometimes horrendous, here is another example from GE and their ultrasound machine.

EKG Story:
“GE Healthcare engineer Davy Hwang’s marching orders were straightforward. Take a 15-lb. electrocardiograph machine that cost $5.4 million and took three and a half years to develop. Squeeze the same technology into a portable device that weighs less than three pounds and can be held with one hand. Oh, and develop it in 18 months for just 60% of its wholesale cost. ‘He thought I was crazy’…” Crazy or not, Hwang pulled it off…The result: The new MAC 400, GE’s first portable ECG designed in India for the fast-growing local market.”

Full story at Business Week.

Related Links:
NIH and India partner to develop low cost medical technologies, Link
Medical basics still needed in developing countries, Link


Written by Aman

April 20, 2008 at 8:10 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] China I found the youtube version of this ad, which is below. In addition I have also seen GE’s portable re-designed low cost EKG machine advertised several times as well. Despite what you may think about these companies it is better […]

  2. I’m most interested in point #4, but want to talk about #3 since it relates to an issue that has come up in 4-5 recent conversations I’ve had with colleagues in the design community. There are many cases of design for so-called “extreme” users or situations benefiting “everybody else”.

    Examples include: the Asus EeePC subnotebook (originally designed for kids), OXO Good Grips (the elderly and disabled), and US highway signs.

    Is there something systematically effective about this approach? Certainly there are people in the universal design and lead user communities who would argue yes.

    Some might say that GE also ought to spend some time better understanding US clinics.


    May 11, 2008 at 10:04 pm

  3. […] portable, affordable EKG Posted on April 21, 2008 by Vinay Brought to our attention by Technology, Health & Development Blog by Aman is a story of technological innovation at its finest. The challenge was to create an […]

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