In the time it will take you to read this book, there may have been hundreds of medical discoveries that bring us closer to a Healthy High-Tech Body than ever before. New discoveries in medicine are moving at an almost unimaginable rate. In a perfect marriage of biology and technology, scientists are using knowledge from the fields of medicine and engineering to help us all live longer, and live better.
We live in a world of paradox. We still cannot cure the common cold (although we're getting close), but we can successfully exchange failing organs for ones that bring us back to life. We can't solve the problem of the epidemic of obesity, but we have broken the entire human genetic code not that we even know what that really means for the future of mankind. We know almost how to build babies in petri dishes; we just don't know if it's right to do so.
The science of health is now spread out in many directions, with research projects exploring many fronts, some of which are described below. This chapter is not about predictions of where medicine might go in the future, but rather about possibilities. Some of the techniques and inventions presented are just around the corner from reality; others are years away. Some will become common practice in our lifetime; some will be beneficial not to us, but to our grandchildren. It's impossible to say right now what the next big breakthrough will be. However, the fields that are receiving the most attention here at the beginning of the twenty-first century include the following:telemedicinerobotic surgerynanotechnologyhome-based diagnostics toolstransplantsstem cell therapygene therapy
Telemedicine: Seeing the Doctor Without "Seeing" the Doctor
In 1999, Dr. Jerri Nielsen went to the South Pole as part of a research team. She was prepared for the cold and the hardships of such an adventure; she was not prepared for cancer. Dr. Nielsen was the only medical doctor in her group. As soon as she found a lump in her breast, she knew she was in for trouble. Because of the winter weather conditions, she could not leave the Pole, nor could anyone fly in to help her. How could she even diagnose herself, no less treat her own disease?
The only possible way to save her life was through the use of telemedicine. Because she was able to communicate, via computer, with doctors thousands of miles away, Dr. Nielsen and her colleagues were able to save her life. Had this technology not existed, the doctor would surely have perished long before she could get out of that frozen land.
Simply put, telemedicine is the use of telecommunications to provide medical information and services. This technology enables doctors to communicate with specialists at long distances, as well as allowing patients to communicate with their doctors. There are two basic types of technology that are currently being used in this field:
1. Store and forward This is when a digital image is stored at one location and then sent to another. This method is used in teleradiology, when X rays, CT scans, or MRI results are sent from one medical center to another or from a medical center to an individual doctor. Some radiologists even have the appropriate computer technology installed at home so that they can have images sent to them directly for diagnosis. This technology is also used in the field of telepathology, where images of pathological slides are sent from one location to another for diagnosis (which is how Dr. Nielsen's tumor was biopsied).
2. Two-way interactive television This technology is used when a "live" consultation is necessary. Dr. Nielsen used this technology so that doctors could guide her through her cancer treatment. You don't have to be at the South Pole to have need for this kind of technology. It's extremely useful for anyone in a rural area, far from an urban health center or specialist. There are programs that currently use desktop videoconferencing systems. You can even attach peripheral devices, such as a stethoscope, to make examination and diagnosis easier.
There are many examples of how this technology is currently being used to save lives worldwide. In Canada, a program called SmartLabrador was set up to include telemedicine for all Labrador nursing stations and health centers. In Greenland, hospitals and towns in the country's twenty largest settlements will be linked by telemedical technology by the year 2002, making telemedicine available to over 50 percent of the population. The United Nations is sponsoring a telemedicine program that will allow children's hospitals around the world to consult with American hospitals and specialists to help children who are catastrophically ill.
Closer to home, some cities in the United States are using telemedicine to allow school nurses to consult with physicians, and telemedicine is being used in correctional facilities so that prisoners do not have to be transported to health centers.
The city of Baltimore, Maryland, is conducting a study using telemedicine to link patients in ambulances to a neurologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center to help stroke patients get the treatment they need as soon as possible. And the Visiting Nurse Associations of America is using a device that is individually programmed by a physician and placed in a patient's home to collect real-time vital data. When the patient gets up in the morning, he or she is voice-prompted to check vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and lung function. The information is then sent to a central station for evaluation. If there is a problem, both patient and doctor will know it immediately.
In Japan, Mitsushita Electric is testing a suitcase-size telemedical box to be kept in the home. It contains a thermometer, a glucose meter, a miniature electrocardiogram machine, and a video camera so that patients can perform tests on themselves, send the data to their doctors, and then have a face-to-face conference if necessary. Oz Garcia's The Healthy High-Tech Body copyright © by Oz Garcia. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All Rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.