Standards, Modularity, and Innovation: The Case of Medical Practice

35 Pages Posted: 12 May 1998

See all articles by Richard N. Langlois

Richard N. Langlois

University of Connecticut

Deborah A. Savage

Yale University; Yale University - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 1997


Most economic analyses of path creation and dependence are stories about how standards create network externalities - and thus potential "lock-in" - in technological systems like personal computers or high-definition television. This paper examines similar questions of path creation and dependence in the context of behavioral rather than technological standards. (Standards, we note, are at base a kind of social institution; and social institutions are recurrent patterns of behavior that help to coordinate human activity.) The papers focuses on the setting of standards for medical education and medical practice in the United States in the early twentieth century. Drawing on the economic theory of the professions articulated by Savage (1994), we argue that those standards proved "enabling" in that they created a decentralized network that was open to ideas from outside and was able to collaborate easily in the interdisciplinary fashion that proved crucial for the development of new devices and techniques.

JEL Classification: I1, L2, O3

Suggested Citation

Langlois, Richard N. and Savage, Deborah A., Standards, Modularity, and Innovation: The Case of Medical Practice (July 1997). Available at SSRN: or

Richard N. Langlois (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut ( email )

304 Oak Hall
Unit 1063
Storrs, CT 06269-1063
United States
860-486-3472 (Phone)
860-486-4463 (Fax)


Deborah A. Savage

Yale University ( email )

89 Trumbull Street
New Haven, CT 06515
United States
203-392-5627 (Phone)
203-392-5863 (Fax)

Yale University - Department of Economics ( email )

28 Hillhouse Ave
New Haven, CT 06520-8268
United States
203-392-5627 (Phone)
203-392-5863 (Fax)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics