If you didn’t see this on NBC's “Rock Center” with Brian Williams, it is well worth watching. A YouTube video of the report shows the medicine of the future. No, not the future... Much of what is shown is available today.
Tiny, low-cost medical devices are now becoming available that often replace many of the expensive electronic testing devices we now see in all hospitals. As a result, a doctor often can perform tests within minutes in his or her own office, instead of ordering expensive tests from a medical center and then requiring a return visit by the patient to hear the results. Many of these low-cost sensors connect to a smartphone for immediate analysis and display of the results.
What fascinated me in the report is Doctor Eric Topol who monitors his own glucose levels minute by minute, even as he eats. The low-cost device uses a low-cost sensor that connects to an iPhone to provide instant reports. When he eats enough corn chips to drive his blood sugar to a pre-defined reading, he stops eating them and his blood sugar remains at a safe level. He wasn't eating cake, but it reminded me of "having your cake and eating it too." Unlike most diabetics, he didn't have to avoid the food in question. He simply enjoyed a small amount of a favorite food and yet was assured he could remain at a safe level of blood sugar.
The device will soon be available to diabetics and borderline-diabetics to reduce their risks and especially to reduce their dependence on drugs that can only generate reports hours or days "after the fact." Since I am a diabetic, I envied that device. I want one! The video also shows low-cost, portable devices to produce electrocardiograms and ultrasound examinations.
Doctor Topol states, "These days I am prescribing a lot more apps than I am medications." Topol currently serves as Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California. He also serves as the Chief Academic Officer for Scripps Health, a professor of Translational Genomics at The Scripps Research Institute, and The Gary and Mary West Chair of Innovative Medicine. In addition, Topol is a co-founder of and serves on the Board of the West Wireless Health Institute as Vice-Chairman. He is editor-in-chief of Medscape and theheart.org.
A technical side issue that fascinates me is how cell phones have morphed into much more. In the past, medical electronics and many other electronic devices were expensive because each device had to have sophisticated computer power, lots of memory, custom-written software to analyze the data being sent to it, and large display screens to show the results. Each device also had to have keyboards, adjustment knobs, sensor input connections, and more. These complex devices are sold in small quantities to hospitals and other medical facilities. All that costs money and we all pay for those expenses in the form of medical bills and insurance payments.
Handheld devices manufactured in large quantities, such as smart cell phones, now provide all the needed processing power and the video displays. All that is required these days is the sensor(s) and the custom software required for each test. The costs involved have now plummeted and probably will continue to drop for many years to come. Of course, we still need doctors and other, highly-trained medical personnel to conduct the tests and to interpret the results. That hasn't changed.
You can watch the video from NBC on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=r13uYs7jglg or click on the video player below.