Doctors prescribing apps
In the past, a doctor carried a briefcase full of gadgets like a stethoscope but nowadays, there is already a digital version of a hospital that we carry with us all the time. So this accessory that is synchronized with the smartphone can do an electrocardiogram in real-time. There are patients with heart disease that we want to examine and monitor.
For this, we have this device that we put to work together with our smartphone, the smartwatch; the best known are the Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Samsung Electronics (LSE: SMSN) brands. But the medicine of the future is not only mobile but also interconnected and digital. It has become ubiquitous and transformed into something everyone is connected to almost all the time.
Smartphones and smartwatches are exponential technologies that work incredibly well, and that fit in our pockets or even on our wrists. And they go from being a mere phone or bracelet to being connected to the internet, to having sensors that monitor everything from your steps to your sleep hours, your voice, and your behaviours. They become a tool for patients to stay connected with their information and communicate with their medical team.
They become a tool for doctors and nurses, being able to use that information to monitor their patients remotely to do telemedicine. This is possible because voice and image can be transmitted in real-time, as Teladoc Health Inc (NYSE: TDOC) already does. We also have devices that talk to your smartphone, like the medical tricorder. In the series Star Trek, owned by Paramount Global (NASDAQ: PARA), the main characters used this box with coloured lights that made “beep” sounds to diagnose illnesses.
One of the companies behind this little gadget is Qualcomm Inc (NASDAQ: QCOM), which designed a similar device. Holding it up to your head, it collects your vitals and integrates them, learning about them and knowing what your normal values are for blood pressure, heart rate and other vitals. If you’re getting sick, it’s a good way to listen to it to take a little better care of yourself.
So in many ways, these devices will be a diagnostic platform and help you manage an illness. If your doctor has prescribed a medication, it will also prescribe an app to help you track when to take the medication and how to adjust the amounts. Sometimes it may prescribe just the app to help with psychiatric problems or to help you get in shape. Or it will prescribe a wearable device to help you count your steps, for example, after knee surgery or if you are trying to improve your cardiovascular fitness. It may also prescribe a device that detects your brain waves. When you wear it, it is a brain interface that helps you do meditation and manage depression and anxiety.
This device will come with apps that will help to know the health status of the brain. So on many occasions, instead of prescribing you medication or giving you a booklet, it’s going to be able to give you intelligent information embedded in an app that will help, for example, to cope with diabetes with a glucometer embedded in the smartphone. Or that will help regulate blood pressure medication with a device that measures blood pressure on the wrist. It might give a premature warning that you’re getting sick and didn’t know it.
I don’t think we’re going to replace doctors with technology, but we’re going to improve their work. We’re going to make doctors, nurses, patients and families smarter. In this era of big data, where we get information from many places, like genomics, and wearable devices, we are going to be able to use artificial intelligence to organize all that information and make it useful to be able to use at home or in the hospital.
Technology is advancing exponentially. Technology tends to get faster, cheaper and better. One of the ones that is developing fast in medicine is 3D printing. You can use Microsoft Corp’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Azure infrastructure, scan yourself and print yourself. You’re going to have a mini version of yourself that’s nice to have on a shelf, but if a doctor has a patient who is missing part of their face, they can make a custom prosthetic. Or, if you get a fracture, instead of putting you in a cast, he can scan you and print a special immobilizer that matches your exact anatomy.
So 3D printing and medicine combined are starting to help orthopedics. Under your shirt, you can wear a patch that transmits your vitals anywhere on the planet. And this can help reduce costs. Instead of staying in the hospital, you can send the patient home and monitor their data, both children and adults. It will cost a few dollars a day and can be used almost like an intensive care unit to send that information anywhere in the world.
It’s a new era where there are a lot of changes happening in many areas, such as transportation, cooking and music. And these changes are starting to be seen in medicine. We are going to be able to turn the equation around and go from treating patients when they are already sick to treating them before they are sick. This is called “Preventive Medicine.” It’s exciting to be alive, with medicine taking an exponential turn thanks to the technology being applied, and reinvented for its use in medicine around the world.