digital medicine

It’s been said that losing weight is much harder than kicking cigarettes or alcohol. After all, because one doesn’t need to smoke or drink, the offending substances can simply be kept out of sight (if not out of mind). Dieting, on the other hands, involves changing the way a person does something we all must do everyday.

It’s no surprise, then, that reports of problematic doctor interactions with social media are popping up with metronomic regularity. When it comes to the smorgasbord of information coursing through those Internet tubes, increasingly, we all have to eat. And that makes drawing boundaries a challenge.

While most early reports on the perils of social media concerned inappropriate postings by physicians, a new hazard has emerged recently: digital distraction. On WebM&M, the AHRQ-sponsored online patient safety journal that I edit, we recently presented a case in which a resident was asked by her attending to discontinue a patient’s Coumadin. As she turned to her smart phone to enter the order, she was pinged with an invitation to a party. By the time she had RSVPed, she had forgotten about the blood thinner – and neglected to stop it. The patient suffered a near-fatal pericardial hemorrhage.

In a commentary accompanying the case, the impossibly energetic John Halamka, ED doctor and Harvard’s Chief Information Officer, described all of the things that his hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is considering to address this issue. It’s not easy: whereas the hospital owns the Electronic Health Record and can manage access to it, the vast majority of mobile devices in the hospital today – at BI and everywhere else – are the personal property of the users. So Halamka is testing various policies to place some digital distance between the personal and professional, including blocking personal email and certain social networking sites while on duty. He’s even investigating the possibility of issuing docs and nurses hospital-owned mobile devices at the start of shifts, collecting them at the end.

Continue reading “Digital Diet”

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Three recent developments have highlighted how difficult it is to predict when and if disruptive technologies will transform clinical medicine in the United States. That we are undergoing an avalanche of new information and new technology is hardly newsworthy. From the dawn of civilization to 2003, human beings created 1 billion gigabytes of new information. In 2012, Google says they catalog 2 billion gigabytes of information every two days.

One of the confounding factors on how this new knowledge and technology is adopted by an industry like health care is the law. Henry Perritt, Jr. describes two ways to think about the relationship between the law and technology. Technological change is “a major source of human problems that the law must address.” The law also always lags technology because the common law tradition requires “that the legal system should not predetermine the course of technological application and product development.” http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/articles/pdf/v10/10HarvJLTech689.pdf

The first example of this concept of the law lagging technology involves American citizen Ellie Lavi who underwent in vitro fertilization and the subsequent birth of twins in Israel. When she went to the American Embassy, she was told that her children would not be American citizens unless she could prove that either the egg or sperm used in her case came from an American citizen. “The problem is that the law hasn’t kept up with the advances in reproductive technology,” states Lawyer Melissa Brissman. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-03-19/in-vitro-citizenship/53656616/1

Continue reading “The Law Always Lags Technology: Implications for Digital Medicine”

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Our day-to-day lives were reformatted when the consumer mobile wireless device era, beyond cell phones, was ushered in by iPods in 2001 and followed in short order by Blackberries, smartphones, e-readers, and tablets. Nurturing our peripatetic existence, we could immediately and virtually anywhere download music, books, videos, periodical, games and movies. Television is soon to follow. But these forms of digital communication and entertainment are a far cry from digitizing people.

This decade will be marked by the intersection of the digital world with the medical cocoon, which until now have been largely circulating in separate orbits. The remarkable digital infrastructure that has been built—which includes broadband Internet, cloud and supercomputing, pluripotent mobile devices and social networking― is ripe to provide the framework for a most extraordinary upgrade and rebooting of medicine.

When I was finishing my internal medicine training in 1982 the term “digital” in medicine referred exclusively to the rectal examination. Now, 3 decades later, there are 4 domains of what comprises digital medicine―genomics, wireless sensors and devices, imaging and health information systems. Each of these digital medical technologies are on exceptionally accelerated growth curves. In 2012, complete DNA sequencing of all 6 billion bases of a diploid human genome will be accomplished in 2 hours at a price well under $4000. Already DNA sequencing is having an impact in medicine for specific gene-drug interactions, targeting of cancer therapy by defining tumor driver mutations (comparing somatic versus germ-line DNA), and demystifying life-threatening idiopathic diseases. Just a few years ago wireless sensors got their start for consumers in the health and fitness space, with wearable accelerometers in running shoes, bracelets, necklaces or clips. Now a brain wave sensor can be used to continuously monitor one’s phases of sleep and wakefulness. Continue reading “Digitizing Human Beings”

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