The Biggest Medical Issue

Thejus Chakravarthy
4 min readApr 12, 2024

Imagine a lollipop that can detect early signs of mouth cancer using a smart hydrogel. Or an implantable battery that uses the oxygen in your blood to power itself. Or having a strip of paper that can tell you everything from what contaminants are in your water supply to why it burns when you pee.

These are the kinds of medical breakthroughs and marvels that exist today. That’s right, currently exist. Not in the future. Not in some cool sci-fi movie. In a lab, with a bunch of grad students, possibly while they panic over grant proposals and why the coffee machine is empty…again…STEVE?!?

Photo by earlybird coffee on Unsplash

Yet, as John Green poignantly reminds us in this video, the gap between cutting edge medicine and general adoption and availability is…business.

Sure, sure, you could say, “We just have to get rid of the corporations!” and assume that would ‘solve’ the problems. But that is a dumb thing to say…and you aren't dumb.

Nothing in the history of our species has ever been accomplished by advocating the elimination of a Thing without having it’s replacement available. So until we have a replacement for the ability of corporations to coordinate and incentivize the efforts of thousands of people, we need to accept them the same way we accepted fossil fuels as an energy source until renewable tech got cheap enough.

Without corporations, those lollipops and implantable batteries will stay in the hands of grad students and not in the hands of medical professionals and consumers. Without corporations, the cost of each unit will be unreachable, but with them, the benefits of scale can be realized.

What we can do is put laws and regulations in place to limit the extent of any systemic failure caused by said corporations. And other laws and regulations to incentivize the greater good.

The real question is how far we can push the idea that systemic failures can be addressed by regulations and laws.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

For example, the reality is that people experiencing homelessness face a significantly higher risk of dementia at younger ages compared to the general population. Moreover, socioeconomic inequalities continue to widen the gap in the prevalence of multiple long-term conditions, a trend projected to worsen by 2049. On a global scale, we find that socio-economic differences had a massive impact on how deadly the SARS-CoV2 pandemic was/is/will continue to be.

So, in the same way that we all learned that making vaccines free kept the spread of SARS-CoV-2 down, addressing problems that affect individuals provide outsized benefits to society as a whole.

Which suggests, for health reasons, we would need to figure out how we house everyone. After all, it’s cheaper to house the homeless than to provide emergency healthcare for the acute symptoms of the chronic diseases that arise as a direct result of homelessness.

Too much of a leap? What about free internet for all? Because even that has direct impacts on healthcare.

Okay, okay, let’s try it from another direction. How about mandated bacterial infections? I mean, if you agree with the research that shows a link between gut bacteria and the risk of hospitalization for infections. Which means, if we insist that everyone have measurable levels of that gut bacteria, then we reduce the number of people who get hospitalized.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

In either case, the real question isn’t “what new marvels in medicine will solve these problems for us?” but “what new forms of socio-economic changes must we have in place in order to make use of these marvels?”

And the answer for that question won’t be found in a lab, but in the public square and the marketplace of ideas. And it won’t be found by individuals describing solutions but by groups reaching consensus. It won’t be easy, especially as opinions continue to be held to the same standard as facts.

But if we can solve that little problem, it’ll be like taking a cancer-detecting lollipop from a baby.



Thejus Chakravarthy

if i’m not optimizing some operations puzzle or the other, i’m probably reading (or writing, apparently)