Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way:
We love Uber.
As physicians with roots in the Bay Area, we use Uber all the time. The service is convenient, (usually) swift and consistently pleasant. With a few taps of a smartphone, we know where and when we’ll be picked up — and we can see the Uber driver coming to get us in real time.
When the vagaries of San Francisco public transit don’t accommodate our varying schedules, it’s Uber that’s the most reliable form of transportation. (It might be that we like having some immediate gratification.)
So when we caught wind of the news that Uber’s founding architect, Oscar Salazar, has taken on the challenge of applying the “Uber way” to health care delivery, there was quite a bit to immediately like. From our collective vantage point, Uber’s appeal is obvious. When you’re feeling sick, you want convenience and immediacy in your care — two things Uber has perfected.
And who wouldn’t be excited by the idea of keeping patients out of overcrowded emergency rooms and urgent care waiting rooms? The concept of returning those patients to their homes (where they can then be evaluated and receive basic care) seems so simple that it’s brilliant.
Mrs. X is a 46 year-old mother of two and wife to an Iraq war veteran. On this particular day she meets with her oncologist to follow up after treatment for skin cancer. Beyond her well-groomed hair, thick plastic framed glasses and coral-red manicured toes, she doesn’t have a clear agenda for her appointment and expectations have only been vaguely outlined. However, this will change.
Wired Magazine asked Mucca Design in 2010 to reimagine the blood test report and the result was an inspiring new way of communicating with patient. 2011 marked the launch of the Tricoder X-Prize worth $10 million supported by X-Prize Foundation and Qualcomm. The goal is to bring to life the fictional Star Trek multifunctional handheld medical device that can scan, analyze and produce results with a goal to diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians. And while 2012 launched a series of new medical innovations that leverage the power of the mobile device, 2013 will be a time to bring together these technologies into a web of interconnectedness.
In 2013, Mrs. X and her mobile device will have access to a digital medical record that gives access to prior appointment notes, recorded videos from remote mobile appointments with her team of physicians, and yesterday’s blood work results. New innovations in medicine will create a foundation for Mrs. X to have better access to care, translate her behavior into actionable data all being tied together to provide what is most important: validation.
In the future, implanted chips will have the ability to stop food absorption when caloric intake reaches 2200. Cells in our forearm will be able to monitor our glucose levels and adjust our insulin appropriately. These implantable cells or “chips” have their own IP address with their own circuitry that is connected to a network 24/7. Through this network, cells communicate with real-time super computers to synthesize the next step for an individual’s body. If Dr. Anthony Atala can utilize 3D printers to create a new kidney, then it is only a matter of time before we can incorporate the circuitry within an organ necessary to monitor its function wirelessly.
This was the future I was challenged to paint in my talk at TEDMED 2012 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. With the conclusion of TEDMED 2013 last week, I ask myself, where are we one year later?
A caveat: The following are simple overviews on novel technologies I had been tracking over the past year and does no justice to the many amazing leaps we have made in innovative science and medicine during this time.
At the turn of the 20th century, we built a healthcare system on responding to acute, curative, episodic issues. This system saw the eradication of many diseases and the advent of vaccinations and new treatments. The model was truly developed to be a “sickcare system,” which was what we needed at the time, and saw huge successes.
Fast forward 100 years and Americans are sicker than ever — but with different illnesses. What’s more, there is finally a national consensus that our healthcare system is broken. With increasingly tragic consequences, the reactionary medical paradigm has not provided the preventive care or chronic illness management that our culture needs. Healthcare spending currently consumes 17 percent of our GDP and without a radical shift in thinking, this number may grow even higher.
Sadly, patients are not the only ones suffering. The status quo is breeding a morale crisis among our nation’s doctors. If you asked one of the many thousands of medical students who are just beginning their fall semester why they chose medicine, many of them would give you confused, anxious responses about the field they are entering. This does not bode well for the health of future generations.
Last Spring, we met at TEDMED, an annual “grand gathering” in Washington, DC where forward thinkers from all sectors explore the promise of technology and the potential of human achievement as it pertains to health and medicine. Here, we presented our respective positions. One of us, Ali, argued that new technologies will actively change our health behavior. Another, Sunny, argued that we needed systems thinking in public health, focusing on the causes of the causes. Yet another, Jacob, argued for stopping the “imaginectomies” and fostering creativity in medical training by rethinking selection criteria and curricula for entrance to medical school.