Saturday, December 17, 2016

"The tech revolution is keeping us healthier" - December 16, 2016

High tech home medical technology used to be a thermometer.  If you were lucky, it was oral.

Today, a lot of technology you would only find in a doctor’s office or hospital has come home.  And what you find in the hospital today is truly futuristic.

At the hospital, we have robot surgical knives like the Davinci machine that can hold a scalpel rock steady. A few inches movement of the controller by the surgeon might move the scalpel a millimeter.  A tiny camera inserted into the incision along with the scalpel gives the surgeon a view he could not get without opening up a much larger incision.  This minimally invasive surgery allows faster recovery and safer surgery.

What’s even more amazing is the controller unit and the patient do not have to be in the same room.  Theoretically, this could allow a surgeon in New York to operate on a patient in Bangladesh, or on the Space Station.

Even more futuristic is IBM’s Watson.  Readers may remember Watson as IBM’s supercomputer that triumphed against “Jeopardy” champions.

They are now training it to aid in medical diagnosis.  By feeding in massive numbers of x-rays, MRI’s, cat scans and other patient data, it is hoped Watson will learn to recognize patterns indicating disease and growths human doctors might miss.

The same artificial intelligence that lets Google Photos recognize dogs in our photos and lets us search for them, could let Watson find tumors and other abnormalities.  A San Francisco startup, Enlitic Inc., claims its software in a test identified malignant tumors 50 percent more accurately than a panel of four radiologists.

Your doctor might have you swallow a large pill that is in fact a camera and transmitter.  A small unit you wear on your body receives and records the information for your doctor to examine.

At home we have our own wonders. Diabetics have blood testing units. There are home blood pressure cuffs that have digital readouts and Bluetooth connectivity to log readings to your phone.  Pulse oximeters that monitor blood oxygen saturation  help those with breathing difficulties control their breathing.

If you have someone with heart issues, for $1,200 you could have your own automatic defibrillator.  I learned in my last CPR course that home CPR is just to keep the blood flowing until a defibrillator can restore normal heart rhythm.  This can be done sooner and before the paramedics arrive with a home unit that is fully automated.

For those with other issues, there are even home breathalyzers.

Now that the baby boomers are well into their senior years — I’m on the trailing edge of boomers, so I can make this comment — home monitoring systems let our kids know we are doing OK while we remain in our own homes.

These systems are devices that have an emergency help button they wear as a watch or pendant. When they press the help button, it sends a signal to a receiver in the home hooked to the phone landline. It can summon help and does not have a monthly service fee.

There is a pill dispensing unit that connects to the Internet via Wi-fi. It allows family members to make sure remotely that medication is being taken and taken on time.

Smart inhalers record when and how much inhalant a patient uses.

The future promises even more. Implants in the body could dispense drugs as needed, instead of at timed intervals. 

Disney’s high research arm--yes, that Disney--is working on software that will let dentists build clinically useful impressions from photographs of your teeth.

Silly Putty, with a little graphene mixed in, has been found to be an amazingly sensitive movement sensor with many medical applications.

In the near future, sensors in your clothing could communicate to your phone and ultimately to your doctor critical vital signs as you work and exercise.

If someone needs emergency medical treatment far from where ambulances can go, drones may delivery medical equipment that amateurs can use via built-in communications to doctors and treat the patients until professional help arrives.

And several firms are looking at man-sized flying drones that would fly out and let an injured person be placed aboard and flown to the hospital without the cost of a crew.


And the old thermometer is of course gone from the scene. Swipe a forehead now and you’ve got a temperature. Or stick it in an ear.  They are fast and non-intrusive these days.

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