PURPOSE The aim of this paper is to examine the diffusion of a new surgical procedure with lower per-case cost and how its diffusion path is affected by the simultaneous introduction of a new drug class that may be an effective treatment to prevent surgery. In particular, we examine whether a process of technology substitution exists that influences the diffusion process of the surgical technology. Given their different cost implications, the interaction of these two different technologies, surgery and drug intervention, is relevant from the perspective of health expenditure. This is of particular interest in health care as technology adoption and diffusion has been cited as a major driver of expenditure growth. Such expenditure growth has been increasingly targeted through the use of market-orientated policy tools aimed at increasing efficiency. Our research is thus addressing the question of how economic incentives influence the diffusion process and we discuss the impact of a set of incentives on hospital behavior. DESIGN/METHODOLOGY Hospital admission data for the financial years 1998/1999 to 2007/2008 in England are used to empirically test the contribution of prescription uptake and market-oriented reforms. Dynamic panel data models are used to capture any changes in technology preference during the period of study. FINDINGS Our results suggest that the hospital sector exhibits a strong new technology preference, tempered by the interaction of competition for patients and the ability of the primary care sector to substitute treatments. VALUE/ORIGINALITY Given the current fast technological change, we examine the technological race occurring in the health care sector. We account simultaneously for the diffusion of different technologies not only within the same typology but also with technologies of a different class.