More on BusinessWeek’s “Million-Dollar Babies”

In this week’s issue of BusinessWeek, I wrote a feature story called “Million-Dollar Babies.” It’s about the miracle of modern neo-natal intensive care and technology and the economic and ethical quandaries prompted by this incredible success story. The story has been generating a lot of traffic on the site. I have already responded to the passionate and personal comments posted in response to the story. (And don’t miss the slide show I put together based on photos from Chris Crisman and myself that we took mostly at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC.)

On my blog, I would like to share some additional information about the subject, based on my reporting.

*On the history of NICUs:
Physicians and medical experts trace the advent of neonatal medicine to the death of Patrick Kennedy, U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s son, who died in 1963 at 32 weeks gestation. By then, a few NICUs had popped up in academic medical centers. But the very public death of Patrick Kennedy raised awareness and prompted additional funding into the field by the National Institutes of Health. The feds continue to play an important role. In December 2006, President Bush signed the Preemie Act, mandating that the U.S. Surgeon General hold a conference to address the growing problem of infant prematurity. The first conference will take place on June 16 and 17 in Maryland, with the goal of establishing an action agenda

* On the business of neo-natalogy:
With all the premature newborns being launched into the world, neo-natology has become a multi-billion dollar business–including everything from million-dollar imaging machines, to drugs, diagnostics, nutritional products and physician services. General Electric and Abbott Laboratories are big players in the market, as well smaller firms such as device makers Hologix Inc. and Sweden’s Getinge AB.

In the last two years, Florida-based Pediatrix Medical Group has rolled up nine neo-natology practices from around the U.S., while Mass.-based Inverness Medical Innovations recently spent $1.5 billion buying Paradigm Health and Matria Healthcare, two companies that provide medical services to the neo-natology market. Last May, the prominent private equity firm Hellman & Friedman acquired Sheridan Healthcare, which ofers neo-natology services to 20 hospitals in six states.

GE is one of the biggest players. It makes incubators, ventillators, respirators, diagnostic imaging systems such as MRIs and patient monitoring systems for the NICU market. “We have an aggressive growth plan,” says Omar Ishrak, president & CEO of GE’s $4.9 billion Healthcare’s Clinical Systems division. “There is still a lot of room for innovation.”

On Innovation for the NICU:
Maquet, a leading maker of ventilation technology based on Sweden, last winter introduced a new machine that regulates the ventilation rate based on brain signals that are monitored through a sensor placed in the infant’s diaphragm. “You can be more responsive to the patient,” says Dan Rydberg, managing director of Maquet Critical Care. “Within a couple of years this will have a big impact on the neo-natal market.” In 2009, Maquet plans to release a new anasthesia delivery system for NICUs that offers a way deliver drugs with more precision.

Nutrition has also been major source of innovation. Preemies are nutrient hogs; they require three times as much calcium as term babies, for instance. Abbott Laboratories makes three different types of specialized infant formulas that are used in NICUs, which help these babies grow. And last year, it introduced a new more concentrated formula called Similac Special Care. It’s like Gatorade for preemies who have trouble keeping down large amounts of food. “By providing a more concentrated form of nutrition, more of these babies are able to meet their needs,” says Russell Merritt, Abbott’s chief scientific officer. “We continue to look for ways to get nutrition to these babies at an earlier age and in increased quantities.”

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5 Responses to “More on BusinessWeek’s “Million-Dollar Babies””

  1. Tara Says:

    Spencer, I thought the story was great. The complex issues raised there do not escape any of us who work in the NICU at Children’s, and you presented them with a very balanced point of view, in my opinion. There are a million stories from any NICU, every one of them worth telling. You’re welcome to come back anytime. Thanks again for the time you spent with us.

  2. Spencer Ante Says:

    Thanks Tara. Great to hear from you!

    I am thrilled and relieved you liked the story. I’ve been getting a lot of heat on the BW message boards.

    Keep up the great work!

    best,
    Spencer

  3. Lauren Says:

    Spencer,
    I just read the article today so I am a little late but your article is so provactive that I just have to respond.

    The article is factual and makes many good points but I immediately became defensive after reading the question “is there such a thing as too young?” Obviously, it is a very viable question but hard to acknowledge that after the many agonizing months of living in the NICU a BW article questions the value of my little one’s life. After a healthy first 32 weeks of pregnancy that suddenly changed for no known reason and YEARS of paying insurance premiums to profitable insurance companies that are now obligated to render the services that have been paid for, it is hard to read it objectively. I think the heat on the BW thread is a response to the comments of readers and not the article itself.

  4. ED Says:

    I cant find your RSS feed i would like to subscribe to your content.

    • Spencer Ante Says:

      Thanks. There is a link on the top right corner of my blog underneath the small book jacket photo that says “Subscribe in a reader.” Click that.

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