The technological revolution will make the NHS cheaper, not more expensive

One of the tropes we see around often enough is that we must spend vast sums more, invest ever more heavily, in the National Health Service because new technologies are going to raise the cost of health care. This is not actually so for a fairly obvious reason. Why would we adopt more expensive methods of doing something?

Quite, we’ll only - as is true in all other areas of life - start to use a new technology if it is better or cheaper than the one we’ve previously used. Some of these new technologies being considerably cheaper too:

Smartphone apps are five times more effective at diagnosing serious heart conditions compared to standard tests, a University of Edinburgh study has found.

Better and also cheaper:

After 90 days, the smartphone device helped doctors diagnose 56 per cent of patients, in an average time of 9.5 days.

However, only 10 per cent of patients given standard care were diagnosed, in an average time of 43 days.

The technology also cut the cost of diagnosis from £1,395 to £474, researchers said.

That’s not an argument in favour of increasing spending upon the NHS now, is it? It’s quite the opposite, an opportunity to sniff around and see whether it needs quite so much of our hard earned.

This has also been true of all previous medical technologies too. Vaccines are cheaper than wards full of smallpox victims. Aspirin cheaper than leeches at curing headaches. What makes health care more expensive at times is the technology which allows us to cure something we couldn’t before.

The total cost of health care in the future is going to be the balance of those two plus whatever the demographics of the population being treated are. But it’s simply not true to go about insisting that advancing technology is necessarily going to make the NHS more expensive so open those chequebooks now.