April 2, 2017

In a few of the posts on this blog, I have briefly mentioned the potential that open source design has to solve problems in the health care sector. However, until now, I have not written an in depth post on the topic. While researching the role of open source design in the health care sector this past week, I came across three major health care problems that OSD can help solve. First, when health care and drug companies develop treatments for illnesses, they can use their intellectual property rights to drive up the cost of the treatment. For example, Myriad Genetics was able to drive up the cost of early breast cancer detection and prevention techniques because they had a patent on the two genes that allowed doctors to identify signs of breast cancer early on (NY Times). This phenomenon is problematic because it forces low-income patients to go without treatment they cannot afford (NY Times). Additionally, this practice can drive out potential patients in markets where treatment is needed the most. For example, patients in developing countries need access to low cost treatments for tuberculosis, malaria, and leishmaniasis more than patients in developed countries (OSDD). Second, it is incredibly costly for companies to develop new drugs. For example, a recent study by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development found that it costs $2.558 billion to develop a new drug (Tufts). This is problematic because companies can only develop new drugs if they know there will be enough market demand to recuperate their investment (NCBI). Therefore, treatments for rare diseases are largely ignored by intellectual property driven drug companies (NCBI). Lastly, access to high quality healthcare for everyone is incredibly important because people should not lose out on living their life or living a life without illness because of their socioeconomic status (HealthyPeople). Open source design can help ensure that everyone has access to high quality health care.

Open source design can help drive down the cost of medical treatments by making information open to everyone (NY Times). By making information open to everyone, companies like Myriad can no longer charge outrageous prices for services that they hold a monopoly on (NY Times). In addition, the use of open source information in the development of drugs increases competition, which also helps to drive down costs through the continual creation of new treatments that are more efficient and less costly than those that came before them. Several open source companies are making strides in this field. For example, Open Source Drug Discovery is a platform that encourages the open source development of treatments for tuberculosis, malaria, and leishmaniasis (OSDD). By bringing making information open to a large variety of scientists and researchers who work together, Open Source Drug Discovery helps develop treatments that cost much less than those developed by proprietary companies (OSDD).

In addition, open source design can help mitigate the disparate effect that the high cost of drug development has on neglected diseases. By spreading the development costs across many individuals rather than one company, open source design allows treatments to be developed for diseases that would otherwise go ignored (NCBI). These drugs for neglected diseases are most often developed from incomplete drugs that were abandoned by large companies (NCBI). The act of using these abandoned drugs is called “drug-repurposing” (NCBI). Through drug repurposing and the collaboration of many individuals, treatments can begin to be developed for neglected diseases because neither of these techniques requires the recuperation of significant investment costs (NCBI). Therefore, the lack of market demand for neglected drugs does not matter in open source design (NCBI).

Lastly, open source design can be used to make access to high quality healthcare a possibility for everyone by giving doctors access to low cost administration. The cost of practicing medicine can be incredibly expensive because doctors often need expensive instruments to perform operations as well as extensive administration staffs. Although there may be some open source companies beginning to develop low cost tools for medical operations, there are several open source companies that are helping doctors cut back on administrative costs. For example, OpenEMR is “an electronic health records and medical practice management application” that helps doctors keep patient records, schedule appointments, and bill patients (OEMR). Most importantly, however, OpenEMR is a non-profit company and offers its services to doctors for free (Open-EMR). In addition, Open Source Health is a platform that allows doctors to create a digital, cloud-based version of their patients (OpenSourceHealth). Therefore, open source design is not only helpful in lowering the cost of medical treatments and ensuring treatments for neglected diseases, it is also useful in helping doctors keep their administrative costs low, ensuring access to quality healthcare for everyone.