During the past 50 years, technology has transformed and personalized many
ways to quantify aspects of human life. Nowhere today is this more evident than
in the field of medicine.
For years, devices have been available that let individuals engage in basic medical self-quantification, from taking temperatures and blood pressures to evaluating blood sugar levels and testing for pregnancy. Today, medical devices are evolving into configurations that will meet the globe’s fast-rising data-driven medical needs. Indeed, smartphone apps and add-ons are available that can perform basic ear, nose and throat exams, wearable patches exist for ongoing electrocardiograms (ECGs),1 and clothes made of smart fabrics can log vital signs and send them to the cloud.
Medical histories as well have become data points to be logged and maintained. Medical providers now type details about patient visits, exams, discussions, prescriptions and test results – all information points that once took up handwritten sheets of paper in bulky file folders – into record-keeping software which automatically appends the data to the patient’s file.
In the future, Watson-style cognitive computing capabilities with natural language interfaces and deep analytics2 might emerge as well that will guide physicians through patient assessments, diagnoses and treatments. All of this is important food for thought for insurers.
Individualization of Medicine
Genetics, smart phone technology and computing power are already rapidly
transforming the practice of medicine.3 Many substantial changes to medicine
are currently being driven by the expanded understanding of the human genetic
code. Although errors in the human genetic code have long been known
to cause certain impairments (e.g. Down syndrome, phenylketonuria), the
successful sequencing of the human genome has greatly increased knowledge
about physiological control mechanisms, enhanced the potential for reducing
diagnostic time and expense and might usher in even more dramatic changes.
The past few year have seen a rapid drop in the cost and speed of sequencing. In the U.S., a full sequence now costs close to $1,000 and very basic sequencing for consumers from companies such as 23andMe is about 1/10th of that. (23andMe currently only offers ancestral origins analysis in the U.S., but in Canada, the U.K. and other countries, it offers genetically-determined health risk testing as well.)
- See also: Underwriting the Quantified Self
for hundreds of billions of dollars in added healthcare costs.4 As a practical example, by testing for liver enzymes CYP2D6, CYP2C9, and CYP2C1, physicians can identify patients who might have difficulties with certain common drugs that treat a variety of impairments, enabling adjustments to dosages or the selection of different alternatives.5
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