Siri, Do I Have the Flu?

by Howard Gerber on March 7, 2013

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Science fiction to science fact is not a new concept. Many of the technological devices and medical advances common today were first envisioned by science fiction writers with big imaginations, including the Internet, described in 1904 by Mark Twain as global communication where people can see and talk to each other in real time. Sound familiar?

The familiar decks of the Star Trek Enterprise yielded many devices that eventually became reality…and a few surprising things in the works. Microsoft is evidently ready to take gaming to a new level with full-immersion holodeck technology (they took out a patent last year) and now Qualcomm is channeling Dr. Crusher with a competition to develop a medical tricorder.

Home triage
The device is intended for home use, but its medical office implications are obvious. Here’s the description of the device from the competition website:

“As envisioned for this competition, the device will be a tool capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases. Metrics for health could include such elements as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. Ultimately, this tool will collect large volumes of data from ongoing measurement of health states through a combination of wireless sensors, imaging technologies, and portable, non-invasive laboratory replacements.”
Imagine being able to pass a non-invasive device over a patient and take vitals in seconds, compare with previous readings, evaluate condition, and continually monitor a patient’s condition with a small bedside device. While this sounds pretty impressive, future possibilities are even more exciting. Being able to check in on outpatients at home via computer. Future applications may include alerts set to monitor certain conditions and send a text alert to caregivers if a patient’s blood pressure, for example, reaches a predetermined threshold.
How nurses could benefit
One of the biggest problems in the medical profession is patient compliance. They don’t always do what they’re told, and there’s no way to know. With a remote sensing device we’ll be able to catch complications faster and get patients in earlier, before a simple problem turns into a major issue. We’ll have more complete records to really see what’s going on. And we’ll be able to better evaluate triggers—the root cause of issues—to determine the best course of action.

One day, such devices may monitor blood glucose, oxygen levels, maybe even check for cancerous tumors. The potential applications, given recent advancements in science and technology, seem unlimited. In ten years will personal medical monitoring devices be as ubiquitous as cell phones? Will patients take more responsibility for their day-to-day health, leaving medical professionals free to deal with real issues? In your opinion, will this help or hinder nurses and how they do their jobs? Will we see more patients as a result, or fewer?

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