The Beatles, Profits, CT Scans, and Waste

Today in 1979, Allan McLeod Cormack and Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield won the Nobel Prize for medicine for developing the theory and technology behind CAT scans.


Few bands can rightly claim to have had an impact on the history of music, and even less can claim to have had a similar impact on the history of medicine. But The Beatles were a band that constantly pushed the boundaries of innovation in popular music, so it is no surprise to discover that their success helped fuel other advances – in this case the development of one of the most important diagnostic tools in the field of medicine.

Around the time the Beatles were finishing what many consider their most innovative album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, an electrical engineer working at Electric and Musical Industries (EMI) called Godfrey Hounsfield was on a weekend ramble in the English countryside, where he conceived a wondrous but ambitious idea. In fact Hounsfield’s idea for viewing and examining organs from outside the body was so ambitious it would require considerable financial investment to get it off the ground.

Thanks to The Beatles, however, whose record sales had almost doubled EMI’s profits since they had signed to its Parlophone label five years earlier, EMI had begun to invest a sizeable amount of money into funding bold research ideas. Within the space of five years Hounsfield’s idea would come to fruition, and few medical achievements would be received with such unreserved enthusiasm as would his invention of computed tomography (CT).

And from CBSnews in 2009:

The annual price tag for imaging? $100 billon. And experts estimate 35 percent of these tests aren’t even necessary. That’s potentially $35 billion wasted every year… In fact, from 2000 to 2007 the annual number of CT scans almost doubled to 69 million.

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