Your Medical Avatar
I don’t normally turn to the Wall Street Journal for information. But on this occasion I got it from there first, before my Medscape mailing came around.
I used to consider Medscape a lively and open-minded source for interesting news in orthodox medicine, some of it bordering on fringe. Then Eric Topol, the editor-in-chief, gave serious voice to that charlatan Paul Offit, talking about his scam book Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.
Throughout the text, Offit argues that healthy alternatives are not just unproven but are, in fact, proven NOT to work. To pull off this outrageous lie he had to completely and brazenly ignore the tens of thousands of papers emerging very year, showing the powerful value of nutritional supplements and the like. I’m talking about papers published in peer-reviewed journals and the quality press.
But Offit’s book was “positively” received, argues Topol. Well, Nazism was positively received, wasn’t it? Just not by everybody and certainly not by warm, intelligent human beings!
Anyway, the piece I’m going to talk about is not Offit but another interview with Topol; author Robin Cook.
Now let me back up a minute and mention the origins of Virtual Medicine. When I rang up Jacques Benveniste to talk to him about his experiments transmitting substances digitally over the Internet—and learning he had used curare to poison some mice thousands of miles away (no curare, just “digital curare”)—I realized there was a book and someone must write it. I decided it would be me.
I’m talking about the book which launched the digital and cyber age of medicine and healing. The title came to mind at once: Virtual Medicine. Because if you can transmit “virtual” substances around the globe, everything is changed. And I wrote the book, published in 1999.
But for years afterwards I went around telling my friends I was gonna beat that dude Robin Cook to the novel (Cook wrote Coma, which was made into a film twice). This time I would write the sensational best-seller in which someone logs on to their computer and drops dead, due to a digital cyanide signal coming through. Are you following me on this?
Of course it would be the perfect crime because:
- There would be no cyanide
- Every “expert” in the world would not know about virtual substances and, if told, would INSIST that such an idea was impossible!
Perfect—and if you are thinking of trying it, do not relate back to me. Please destroy this newsletter and clean your hard drive, before doing the dirty deed! I don’t want to be an accessory before the fact (do they have that charge here in the USA?)
Anyway, sad to report, I never wrote the novel; but Robin Cook did. He beat me… or at least has come close! It’s just out and called “Cell” (only in hard cover to date). To commemorate the launch, Eric Topol had Cook come on his regular show and talk about it.
I soon got interested in the content. It was all about the new digitalized personal medicine: smart phone devices and diagnostic avatars the like. Wow! I predicted it all in Virtual Medicine, about 10 years ahead of the curve (that’s what I do).
The AliveCor Heart Monitor is a hardware/app combo that turns smartphones into a portable electrocardiogram (ECG) machine. The app records and stores ECG readings on AliveCor.com, where patients and doctors can safely access the information at anytime
Welcome to the world of personal digital medicine.
First and foremost, the digitalization of medicine will personalize health care: Treatment will be tailored to each person as a unique individual suffering a unique illness according to his or her genetic makeup.
Currently, therapy is based on population statistics or “averages”. Patients are separated into groups defined in various ways but usually by similar symptoms or by the results of basic lab tests (like cholesterol levels). These groups are then treated with drugs that may help many people, but not all of them, and often only a fraction of them (Topol’s words).
By incorporating information from an individual’s DNA, the data made available through digitalization will enable clinicians to match individuals with treatments. Only patients who will benefit will get a particular drug.
This shift is huge. Giving drugs to patients who are not helped has been enormously expensive and often perverse. Particularly with anticancer drugs, it often condemns such patients to horrendous side effects for no benefit.
The Inverted Pyramid
As Cook pointed out in this interview, the whole rationale for our modern healthcare system is supposed to be to have lots of primary care doctors, a few other specialists, and a few — maybe even just 1 or 2 – super-specialists. That’s supposed to be our pyramid, but our pyramid is upside down.
We have all these specialists and no primary care physicians, and it’s never been solved. And suddenly, when I put all these things together, I realized that the solution to the primary care physician is going to be the smartphone, because it’s not just an app to monitor your blood pressure. And it’s not just an app to take a picture of your ear so that the doctor can look at it.
The cell phone can do all of these things together, and why not? The smart phone is your primary care avatar!
The Gutenberg Bible of Medicine
This digital revolution will democratize medicine: You will own or control the data about your own medical condition, and you will be able to analyze it instantly by your connectivity to the Web.
In many ways, the profession of medicine today is where Christianity was when the Gutenberg Bible put scriptures into the hands of the laity (1455).
But the profession is going to change, subtly and not so subtly shifting power away from the medical-industrial complex: doctors, health insurers, hospitals, medical labs and Big Pharma.
This can only be good for all of use.
The brave new world of digital medicine is coming about by the convergence of three rapidly evolving technologies: IT, or informational technology, involving wireless signaling, cloud computing and, most particularly, the spread of ever more sophisticated smartphones; medical applications of nanotechnology; and the progressively lower cost and availability of genome sequencing.
Today, all the physiological data monitored in a hospital intensive-care unit—including ECG, blood pressure, pulse, oxygenation, sugar level, breathing rate and body temperature—can be recorded and analyzed continuously in real time on a smartphone connected to a sensor.
It can deliver information instantly to you or anyone you designate, and get this: the information rivals that collected in a physician’s office or hospital setting. It can do so when you are experiencing specific symptoms—no appointment necessary—and at virtually no additional cost.
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