Promoting electoral reform and sound government.

Monday, September 27, 2004

With health care costs threatening to grow out of control, we need to start thinking about how to apply technology in significant ways.

It is my belief that accurate, realtime information of a person's medical condition can, if acted upon, can keep most conditions from spiraling out of control.

I was in a medical office in January. As I sat and watched, the family of the woman in the wheelchair attempted to complete the medical history forms that have to be filled out before seeing the doctor.

The first of her four bladder surgeries was in 1963, the year I was born.

When her granddaughter asked for her social security number, I could have discretely typed it into my PDA had I been so inclined.

At least the doctor's office had a two page privacy policy.

The real problem with the medical system is not that our private data is being shared without our consent (although that happens). It is more of a problem to me that are actual history is unavailable to new physicians. The patient is relied upon to remember it all.

Data is the real problem in health care. Take symptoms, for example: Can you accurately remember your symptoms and relate them to your physician?

Then there's delay. It frequently takes time for you to realize that there is a problem significant enough to go to the physician. More time passes before you actually make an appointment, which then might still be several days away. Then the doctor must try to divine what is actually going on before deciding if any tests are needed.

This will all change once realtime medical information becomes a reality. Imagine a sensor that can measure your vitals from inside the body. Such devices will eventually be used routinely test for blood pH and sugar, levels of critical hormones and even the nutritional content of your food.

The effects of a new medication on the body could be monitored.

Periodically this information could be relayed out of the body via Wi-fi, Bluetooth or even a cell phone network.

Imagine the datamining that could be performed on all of the data collected. Correlations between supplement like ephedra and elevated blood pressure and heart rates could have been found much sooner.

Finding elevated levels of a chemical found in people living in a certain area could head off years of exposure to a toxin before dozens of cancer cases get the chance to develop.

Having a heart attack could cause such a device to instantly call 911 for you. And alert your family.

If you're a victim of a crime, your body responds in an observable way with elevated heart rate, blood pressure and certain chemicals. In such an instance, a device could notify the police of your situation, speeding a response.

Now there are risks and privacy issues with this sort of technology. But the benefits greatly outweigh the downside. Serious research needs to be done in this area. If we play our cards right with the privacy and information challenges we ALREADY have, we can be prepared when this next leap in medical technology is ready.

And we have to. According to some projections, we'll be spending half of the federal budget on Medicare and social security.

Medicare should make up 70% of that, so if we can slash the cost of medical care by 50%, that'll defer insolvency by a decade or two.

I think its worth investing 10 or 20 million in now to jumpstart this technology