Star Trek! Coming soon to a doctor near you!
By Tomlin Paul
It's the norm at the start of the year for a few more patients to come in for check-ups as a part of their New Year resolutions or their policy of annual check-ups.
In response, I use my skills and appropriate technology to make an assessment and to support their goal of maintaining good health. This process involves asking some questions, a physical examination and then running tests such as urine, blood, stool and perhaps electrocardiogram, ultrasounds or X-rays depending on one's age and medical history. It takes time and some patients leave my office armed with advice and things to do but end up not following up 'till the New Year comes again.
A Star Trek check-up
In one of the episodes of the Star Trek television series, which those of you over 50 might have been avid fans, aliens seize and torture Dr McCoy and Captain Kirk and Mr Spock rush to his aid. In seconds, they check him out with the help of a medical tricorder - a hand-held computer with a detachable sensor. A quick scan showed that he suffered from 'severe heart damage; signs of congestion in both lungs and evidence of massive circulatory collapse'.
Are we there yet?
Here are some exciting medical tools, though not as comprehensive as Star Trek's medical tricorder, they are already out there:
MobiSante, based in Redmond, Washington, has devised a smart phone-based ultrasound system which allows a look on your phone at your heart and other organs in a split second.
AliveCor has developed an iPhone case with two electrodes that can perform an electrocardiogram. You simply hold each end of your phone and Walla!
How about the iBGStar, glucose-monitoring device. Once you give a drop of blood, it measures glucose levels using a technology called WaveSense. The readings appear and can be stored on the iPhone, allowing for real time and long-term monitoring. Just like you check messages, you can check your blood sugar painlessly anytime you like!
Then there's 'Scout', which is placed in contact with your temple and shows on your phone your heart and respiration rate, blood oxygenation and temperature. Time to trade in that home thermometer!
Okay, now gargle a special liquid, spit into a cartridge with some test strips and a pattern will appear to show which infections, if any, are present. That's 'ScanaFlu' for you!
A new frontier!
A whole new era is on our doorsteps with these new technologies and access to information. Of course, new responsibilities and ethical issues also emerge with it. The X Prize and Qualcomm Foundation now have a $10 million global competition for development of a handheld device like the medical tricorder.
So perhaps one day when it's time for your check-up, you won't be spending any time in my waiting room. What a relief you must be saying! I'll simply ask my receptionist to 'beam you up' to my office to discuss your tricorder readings.
Here's to you living longer and better in this new frontier!
Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.