By Patrick Whiteway
Imagine this. An elderly colleague of mine, who happens to be a metallurgist, checks into a Toronto hospital for an operation that could extend his life. Months prior to checking in, he had complained to his doctor about irregularities in his heartbeat, a shortness of breath and the occasional pain in his chest. His doctor referred him to a heart specialist who, after all the necessary tests for stress and cholesterol levels recommended that he have a stent installed in his main artery.
Stents are ingenious tube-shaped devices made of metal wire mesh that are designed to prop open and prevent your arteries from collapsing, thus ensuring the free flow of blood. Millions of these have been inserted into people’s arteries since they were invented some 20 years ago. These days, stents are made of either nickel-titanium shape memory alloy, nickel-containing stainless steel or a cobalt-based alloy.Being a metallurgist, our patient knows a thing or two about nickel and the rate at which nickel alloys corrode, especially in the highly saline environment that is the human body. He is also aware of the potential risks to his long-term health of nickel ions, released from a corroding stent, circulating throughout his body. So, naturally, our metallurgist asks the surgeon if he could have the stent that is made of a cobalt-based alloy.
As it turns out, due to a quirk of the Canadian medical system and the year that this event actually took place, the hospital in question used only one variety. So, in reality, there was no choice to be made.
But there are two interesting things about this story. The first is that my colleague didn’t want nickel ions released into his body and the other is that our patient knew the technical details and the risks to his health of a particular product and fully expected to have a choice. This heightened level of expectation is a direct result of today’s socially connected world; patients should be entitled to make a choice based on what they feel is best for them and their health.
A choice was not possible in this particular example, but in the not-too-distant future choices like this will become an essential part of our everyday lives. In 2009, Daniel Goleman, wrote a best-selling book entitled Ecological Intelligence. In it, he explains how the process by which we make purchasing decisions will have a significant impact on markets in the future. How this 'radical transparency' might affect the market for nickel in the next five to ten years is the subject of this post.Read more >>