Medicine has always been a mix of technology and the human touch. From the earliest stethoscope and tongue depressor, there have always been tools that practitioners had to use to provide care. Over time, ancillary services like x-rays and laboratories have come into the field.
Today, medicine is in the midst of a technological revolution. What we are seeing happening in health care is truly changing every aspect of how we care for the sick and injured in our world.
But it isn’t simply a matter of employing high-tech just because we can. It represents an improvement in health care. The new developments will save time and money, without a doubt. But most importantly, they will save lives.
Access To Care
A great shortfall of our system has always been the difficulty of getting geographical access to doctors. No matter how much you were willing or able to pay, if you lived too far from quality care, you just couldn’t get it.
The ability to communicate electronically has changed that. A great example is the 1999 case of Jerri FitzGerald, a physician doing research on Antarctica who treated herself for breast cancer using information from specialists back in the US. Without the data links that made this possible, she would have either died or had to make a long and dangerous journey back home.
Of course, not every case is that extreme. Sometimes it’s scheduling that creates the distance from our care. For the person who has too many commitments to give up three or four hours at the doctor’s office, there is now urgent care online that will let you communicate directly with a doctor from wherever you are, getting the information you need to treat your condition.
Transmission of Information
Both of these examples also highlight the role of data communication. We often think of our doctors as taking x-rays and sliding them into a clip that holds the images in front of a bright light for the doctor’s review. While these conventional films are still utilized, most images are also computerized. Doctors can look at them on a computer and get better resolution and magnification than the old system can manage.
But it’s so much more than that. A woman in labor can be connected to monitors that transmit data to her doctor at home or in the office, keeping the physician apprised of her progress without interrupting other commitments. A specialist can review sharp, clear images captured moments ago from a patient thousands of miles away, pinpointing care and improving recovery prospects.
Some medical conditions require near-constant monitoring. Patients who are treating high blood pressure or diabetes can benefit from having a steady stream of feedback on their critical numbers, but achieving that is nearly impossible. No hypertensive person can keep a cuff around their arm all day, and diabetics can only tolerate so many needle sticks a day.
Fortunately, technology is bridging this gap. Patients can now get monitors that will constantly observe their important medical conditions and provide them (and for kids, their parents) with feedback and alerts about where things stand. This permits better diagnoses because it gives a larger data set for physician review, and of course it helps with more accurate treatment of conditions.
There will never be a substitute for the knowledge of experienced practitioners. But the way we contact them and the way they gather needed information looks very different – and much better – than it did just a few years ago, to the benefit of patients and providers alike.