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Forbes.com

 

Tricorder Update -- Social Medicine is the Next Big Thing After Social Media

May 21, 2012

By Mark P. Mills

You want a vision for the future of health care? Don’t look to policymakers and regulators. Look to innovators and innovations. Look to San Diego’s wireless mesas and San Francisco’s silicon valleys. Look at Scanadu’s protean medical Tricorder. They get it, and it’s awesome. Watch their one-and-a-half-minute video before reading on.

Scanadu’s vision embraces patient-centric healthcare as a personal information service, in your control – in your hands – amplified by the Cloud. It is the key to unleashing the power of social medicine. Welcome to the future of healthcare.

Of course we can already use social media, whether Facebook [NASDAQ:FB] or its health-centric cousins like PatientsLikeMe, to "friend" within a subject domain (symptoms, questions). But what we hunger for are hard facts about our personal medical problem that we can share with the best medical expertise. Enter Scanadu and the Tricorder.

Scanadu is competing for the Qualcomm [NASDAQ:QCOM] Tricorder X-Prize I wrote about earlier this year. (See New Era of Metadata Medicine) The underlying DNA of Scanadu is illuminated by the newest member of their impressive team, Canadian Peter Jansen, a polymath with a background in astro and optical physics, cognitive artificial intelligence, and medical imaging. Jansen’s talents speak volumes about the kind of imaging and information processing that will change the face of medicine. Jansen says "medicine must become an information science." Amen to that.

And, to digress briefly, read Dr. Eric Topol’s exquisite book, The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care, if you want to gain insight into medicine’s future. I’m embarrassed to note I failed in my earlier column on the Tricorder X-Prize to highlight Topol, Director of Scripps Translational Science Institute. Topol was on stage with Qualcomm CEO Jacobs when the X-Prize was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show this past January. Topol is doubtless the key visionary behind this X-Prize.

The underlying technologies that will remake healthcare should be increasingly familiar. It is the holy alliance of three profound macro trends: a) smart sensors that are radically effective and cheap, b) anytime everywhere wireless broadband, and c) the Cloud. All can be realized in the form of a Tricorder-like appliance in consumers’ hands that is linked to massive medical data and expertise in the Cloud. Today any of us can access more compute power than what was available to secret military programs using dedicated supercomputers just two decades ago.

Symptoms, images, vital-signs data — these can be sifted and correlated with exabytes of other relevant data at next to no cost. Who doesn’t immediately Google on their iPhone or iPad questions about symptoms these days when one, or one’s loved one is ailing? The hand-held Tricorder just takes the smart phone to another plateau (and one day they merge). Tricorder sensors will augment your questions with your real-time and historic medical information. What exactly is this blemish? How serious is this cut? Do I have an infection or virus?

With logic and storage virtually free, game-changing innovation now resides in developing sophisticated, often unstructured analytic software that can put two-and-two together, using your specific vital signs and diagnostic facts combined with the universe of information across all relevant medical, environmental, location and demographic domains. That was a key application IBM [NYSE:IBM] had in mind with the intuitive algorithms underlying the Watson supercomputer that beat human competitors in the 2011 Jeopardy PR stunt. (See my earlier columns on Watson and on unstructured data analytics from the likes of Splunk [NASDAQ:SPLK].)

This doesn’t cut the doctor out or the hospital. But it does empower citizens themselves to make decisions, and helps physicians and hospital staff see or make rapid and early diagnostics thus minimizing spurious and expensive visits. Ask a doc. The speed that symptoms are diagnosed can save your life.

As we push more knowledge and control back to consumers – keeping otherwise largely healthy people away from expensive facilities – people become healthier and happier, and costs will come down. The Tricorder capabilities will also enhance outpatient monitoring and care — the latter perhaps the most challenging Achilles’ heal buried in medical costs. (Scanadu’s video doesn’t go there … their Tricorder will.)

All of the symptoms and vitals — temperature, pressure, blood and urine analysis, etc. –- can yield to powerful, inexpensive imagers, sensors and tiny MEMS-based and nanotech-enabled diagnostic engines that are embedded or can be easily plugged into a port. And it will be as easy to use as your iPhone.

And imagine too a Tricorder that can ’x-ray’ without ionizing x-rays using instead high-resolution ultrasound (GE’s machine is already briefcase-sized), and terahertz (THz) imaging. Producing bizarre (and safe) THz rays required exotic and bulky laser-based generators until just last month when a University of Texas at Dallas team announced that they found a way to do it with the same cheap silicon process used to make your digital camera chip.

I’m waiting for the next Scanadu video to push the envelope. Imagine incorporating Zephyr’s smart fabric sensor technology for easy real-time tracking of ECG, heart rate, breathing, temperature, activity and posture. This is serious and exciting stuff. Check out for example the University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing … need one say more than is contained in the title? Their www.everyheartbeat.org project, again titularly self-explanatory, is a great example, and only a first step. These are the technologies which personalize your critical medical vitals via a Tricorder and that, when combined with social media, will unleash the potential inherent in "social media medicine."

Institutions like the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media are already setting the stage by studying and facilitating the Facebook aspect of the health revolution. (See an intriguing article in Nature regarding PatientsLikeMe.) But it will be the Scanadus of the world that unlock the enabling part, the hard part: useful real-time personal health information.

Lots of folks are chasing this dream – both for riches and for the satisfaction of changing medicine. It’s Topol’s dream too: "There will be titanic changes ahead – medicine can and will be rebooted and reinvented one individual at a time."

The Tricorder, and all those like Scanadu in the Valley and on the Mesas, will create what Topol calls the hyperpersonalization of health care. Read his book. Watch Scanadu’s video. All ahead Warp Speed. <>

Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/markpmills/2012/05/21/tricorder-update-social-medicine-is-the-next-big-thing-after-social-media/

 

 
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