I’m a big fan of Star Trek. Most fans are interested in things like the ship design, the phasers, the transporter technology and how the tricorder works. One area that gets little publicity is the medical technology on the Enterprise.

In Star Trek, diagnosing an illness or infirmity is completely non-in­vasive. One wave of a hand-held medical scanner can identify most problems. For more complex issues, the patient merely lies on a table and a complete body scan projects his or her ailment onto a screen. Treatments and cures are equally seamless. A few more waves of the hand-held medical scanner can fix a broken bone in minutes.

It is difficult to predict the future of technology and predicting med­ical technology is even harder, but it is interesting to look at where we are now with a recognition that medical technology is moving fast ahead. Here are just a few examples.

Doctor on Demand

doctor on demand example of technology and healthcareSometimes I joke with my friends that there is an app for everything. For example, there is now an app out called Doctor on Demand. With it, you can see a doctor from the comfort of your own home. Here is how it works.

You open the app and it runs you through a series of menus direct­ing you to the appropriate doctor. Once completed, you have a live video conversation with a doctor on your computer or hand-held device. It includes assessment, diagnosis and even prescriptions. Costs, including co-pay, are usually comparable to a face-to-face doctor visit, but this approach is less expensive than urgent care or the emergency room. You do have to sign up for an account.

Remote Robotic Surgery

Robotic surgery or robot-assisted surgery has been around for more than two decades. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is primarily used in detailed surgical procedures where precise micro-instruments and lasers are needed. There are certain types of micro-surgery where the surgeon uses micro­scopes, in conjunction with ex­tremely small precision surgical tools, to properly see what he or she is doing. Using this method, doctors can perform delicate, complex procedures that would have been impossible using tra­ditional techniques.

An example would be the many kinds of laser surgery available, from correcting the lens in your eye to removing bronchial tu­mors. Until recently, most ro­botic surgery was performed lo­cally, with the surgeon and the machine all in the same room.

With the recent development of su­perior telecommunication technologies and expansive high-speed Internet availability, the surgeon and patient can be on opposite sides of the planet. It’s not transporter technology, but it’s close.

Technology has changed that. With the recent development of su­perior telecommunication technologies and expansive high-speed Internet availability, the surgeon and patient can be on opposite sides of the planet. It’s not transporter technology, but it’s close.

Technology Changes How Medical Students Learn

medical students learning from technology and healthcareAnyone who has seen the 1980s cult classic film Gross Anatomy realizes that every medical student has to take anatomy classes. A major difference is that, thanks to technology, there are now options for curriculum developers that do not include the donated cadaver labs.

The New York University School of Medicine has partnered with a high-tech company, BioDigital Systems, to produce the BioDigital Human. This is a web-based, interactive, 3D virtual cadaver used to teach students about anatomy and health conditions. It promises to add an enhanced digital experience to the integration of technology and medicine. Once again, it’s not quite a medical bay scanner of a live patient but it’s a big leap from just 10 years ago.

Health Tracking and the Future

There is great interest in how technology can help us track and monitor our health, to both prevent problems and catch problems early. There are already wristbands and bracelets capable of mea­suring a number of things like daily steps, blood pressure, heart rate and sleep levels. But imagine a next generation of technology that can do much more.

University of Illinois scientists and engineers are working on a wire­less health-tracking skin patch. These high-tech patches are ul­tra-thin and can stretch and move with your body and skin. Tiny sensors, circuits, radios and batteries can collect much more data than a wristband. Placed on multiple areas of the body, it may be possible to record and analyze motion data associated with medical conditions such as Parkinson’s or epilepsy. I can foresee a day when these skin patches could diagnose and even suggest treatments. Or imagine if you passed out, the skin patch technology could call 911 and give your location. It’s not Star Trek, but it is pretty interesting.

June 22, 2016

Technology and Healthcare

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