Legal and Regulatory Barriers to Reverse Innovation

Ann Glob Health. 2016 Nov-Dec;82(6):991-1000. doi: 10.1016/j.aogh.2016.10.013.


Background: Reverse innovation, or the importation of new, affordable, and efficacious models to high-income countries from the developing world, has emerged as a way to improve the health care system in the United States. Reverse innovation has been identified as a key emerging trend in global health systems in part because low-resourced settings are particularly good laboratories for low-cost/high-impact innovations that are developed out of necessity. A difficult question receiving scant attention is that of legal and regulatory barriers.

Objectives: The objective of this paper is to understand and elucidate the legal barriers faced by innovators bringing health interventions to the United States.

Methods: Semistructured qualitative interviews were conducted with 9 key informants who have directly participated in the introduction of global health care approaches to the United States health system. A purposive sampling scheme was employed to identify participants. Phone interviews were conducted over one week in July 2016 with each participant and lasted an average of 35 minutes each.

Findings: Purely legal barriers included questions surrounding tort liability, standard of care, and concerns around patient-administered self-care. Regulatory burdens included issues of international medical licensure, reimbursement, and task shifting and scope of work challenges among nonprofessionals (e.g. community health workers). Finally, perceived (i.e. not realized or experienced) legal and regulatory barriers to innovative modalities served as disincentives to bringing products or services developed outside of the United States to the United States market.

Conclusions: Conflicting interests within the health care system, safety concerns, and little value placed on low-cost interventions inhibit innovation. Legal and regulatory barriers rank among, and contribute to, an anti-innovation atmosphere in healthcare for domestic and reverse innovators alike. Reverse innovation should be fostered through the thoughtful development of legal and regulatory standards that encourage the introduction and scalable adoption of successful health care innovations developed outside of the US, particularly innovations that support public health goals and do not have the benefit of a large corporate sponsor to facilitate introduction to the market.

Keywords: barriers; health system; healthcare; innovation; legal; regulation.

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Workers
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Diffusion of Innovation*
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Humans
  • Organizational Innovation*
  • Self Care
  • United States