Can Silicon Valley Innovation Solve the Healthcare Crisis? Coverage of the Second Annual Great Silicon Valley Oxford Union Debate

By Zim Ugochukwu

Last Thursday, a group of people, from inside healthcare and out debated this very question at Santa Clara University at The Second Annual Great Silicon Valley Oxford Union Debate.

The Churchill Club took the nearly 200 year old Oxford Union Debate and transformed it with a Silicon Valley twist to discuss and debate the merits of technology innovation in healthcare. The event featured an all-star lineup of business, design, life sciences and medical professionals.

The Proposition team featured Joe DiNucci of Enabling Thought Leadership, Gary Lauer of eHealth, Malay Gandhi of Rock Health and Stacey Chang of IDEO. The proposition team cited consumer empowerment, increased innovation and higher standards of care as successful Silicon Valley healthcare innovations.

The Opposition team featured Maria Sendra of Jones Day, Robert Obana of Veterans Health Research, Bruce Jenett of DLA Piper and Michael Malone of the New York Times. They pointed to the need for behavior change and holistic solutions to solve the healthcare crisis—areas that Silicon Valley has yet to address effectively.

Stances from the debate varied widely. Joe DiNucci argued that the only way to fix healthcare was to increase the amount of smart buyers who knew the state of their own health and supporting them with tools that allowed for smarter decision making. Malay Gandhi validated this point by demonstrating how emerging technologies and platforms like 23andMe and Wellframe are helping to increase the pool of informed and engaged buyers.

Robert Obana countered that even with all the great advancements of technology, we can’t solve health problems without changing human behavior. Bruce Jenett argued that not all innovation comes from Silicon Valley and that an initiative as simple as the doc-in-a-box—clinics in retail spaces like Walgreens—happened without Silicon Valley. Personal stories like that of Gary Lauer, who chronicled the life saving Da Vinci surgical robot technology that removed his asymptomatic tumor, helped further shape the debate.

After the hearty debate, the proposition team emerged as the winner, capturing a significant portion of post debate yays. The winner was based upon who could move the audience—they were polled at the beginning and the end, and the proposition team emerged as the winner, having gained the most votes.

There is a definite need for more discussions like this one.  Pitting the best minds in Silicon Valley against each other with large scale issues to debate, will not only clearly present different sides of the problem–but hopefully–unearth some insightful solutions.