We are all scientists
The best tool to improve and keep track of your health may be in your pocket, says Dr. Eric Topol, a pioneering figure in “wireless medicine” — the practice of using apps and devices in health care. An article from NBC News describes how new apps for iPhone and other devices can measure vital signs and even detect whether someone is having a heart attack. “These days, I’m prescribing a lot more apps than I am medications,” says Dr. Topol. “The smartphone will be the hub of the future of medicine.”
The linked article shows the powerful use of technology to deal with a health emergency. Thanks to the smartphone, people have the equivalent of a supercomputer in their hands, capable of doing amazing things.
At the moment, the health arena is focussed on making sick people healthy. That has been incredibly helpful over the years but is beginning to reach its terminal end. It is simply becoming more and more expensive to gain even small increases in quality of life.
But, in a few short years, each of us will be able to collect huge amounts of data on our own personal health. Medicine will become personal.
Lee Hood – whom I have known since my days at CalTech when he taught me immunology – has been describing his vision of “P4 medicine” for years – predictive, preventative, personalized and participatory.
What happens when everyone has access to their own genetic information? What happens when each of us is wearing a wireless patch, one that constantly records thousands of data points on our personal metabolism and downloads that our computers? What happens when we can measure our own personal prescription drug levels daily, knowing exactly how long a therapeutic dose lasts for multiple drugs rather than rely on the probabilistic information for a single drug we deal with today?
How much cheaper will it be to catch health problems early? How much cheaper will it be to deal with people whose systems are just beginning to develop problems instead of seeing them long after they are sick?
We now have evidence that we can detect diseases such as the flu days before the symptoms become apparent. What happens when we become able to detect cancer years before symptoms?
The rapidly decreasing price of goods and services seen in the exponential economy will hit current medical practices hard. People will find ways to get the data that they want.
Right now I have a Fitbit to measure my activities and a balance to measure my weight/body fat percentage. Both dump the information to my computer wirelessly. I am creating a database. Throw in a daily log of my exercise/food and I can now track my weight lose/gain based on several measures. All this data is available to me via any digital device I have. I can easily track how my weight and body fat changes based on what I eat and do, not based on what research shows works for a general population.
Things how this will change medicine, especially when people have access to much more information. What this will also mean is that people will need better/different filters to explain and mine the data for them. I expect that we will see the growth of a huge industry to service this data for people.
Current medicine really only deals with biological systems after they begin failing. It can cost a lot to get the systems back in working order. Fixing them before the really become a problem will be the goal of 21st cebtury medicine.