When Mike Harsh came to work as an electrical design engineer at GE Healthcare in 1979, he planned to stay for two years and move on to something else. That was 33 years ago, and he’s still “jazzed” about the place.
“It feels like I just started, and today’s my first day,” he says about his position as vice president and chief technology officer of GE Healthcare.
Harsh had several job opportunities upon graduating from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Most of them were in the aerospace industry out in California, but one was in the medical systems branch of GE. He recalls thinking to himself, “I can either design weapons delivery systems or I can design medical scanners that look inside bodies.”
He opted for bodies, and entered the historic design culture spawned when Thomas Edison created GE in 1878. What began with Edison’s light bulb in 1879 has continued with more than a century of groundbreaking innovations across numerous markets. Some of the most radical changes took place in medical imaging and diagnostics at GE, starting with the first X-ray machine in 1896, developing into computed tomography (CT) scanners and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines of the late 20th century, and culminating with the new frontiers of molecular medicine in the 21 st century.
“Edison just tried stuff,” Harsh says. “We’re not afraid to try stuff.”
GE Vice President and GE Healthcare Chief Technology Officer Mike Harsh recently addressed attendees at The Economist’s inaugural “Technology Frontiers” conference where he talked about how technology will change the face of healthcare.
The London-based conference provided a platform for business leaders from across the globe to appreciate how technology will transform the world around us. Reviewing some of the principal innovations of the past decades, Harsh explained how medical technology has experienced explosive growth on a global scale over the past fifty years. “X-ray, surface chemistry, CT, ultrasound,and mammography are now household names and available in countries anywhere around the world,” he said. In the last decade in particular, healthcare has moved toward customized, individualized treatment —transitioning from ‘see and treat’ to helping clinicians detect signs of a disease at a molecular level. Speaking at the conference, Mike Harsh said that today’s challenge is disease treatment’ to one based on prevention, prediction and presymptomatic detection, with a long-term care paradigm focused on keeping patients in the home-care setting.