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Medical technologies could replace doctors -

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Medical technologies could replace doctors

Carly Laird reported this story on Monday, February 1, 2010 12:50:00

ELEANOR HALL: A doctor in the United States is predicting that members of the public will soon be
able to use technologies like smart phones to monitor and even treat their own health conditions.
People predisposed to diabetes will be able to monitor their glucose levels, pregnant women will do
their own ultrasounds and medication may even be administered remotely.

As Carly Laird reports.

CARLY LAIRD: Doctors have been using technology to keep tabs on us for years but soon we'll be able
to access the same data ourselves.

Dr Eric Topol, is the director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in California. He
explains some devices that are already on the market.

ERIC TOPOL: Most recently there has been an introduction of a headband which basically detects
brainwaves and tracks every minute of sleep.

CARLY LAIRD: And so this information, is that then transferred to a sleep specialist?

ERIC TOPOL: Well, it could be but most of it is really goes right to the consumer. It actually
coaches the individual on what they need to do to get better quality sleep so it is all done
through the web.

CARLY LAIRD: He says technological developments in recent years have created a perfect storm for
innovation of new medical devices.

ERIC TOPOL: Well, it is occurring at multiple levels. On the wireless side, we have now pervasive
connectivity. We have a lot of bandwidth with 3G and more to come. We have got the smart phones,
over four billion individuals with cell phones and smart phones and then of course, we have got
these ingenious sensors so that all coming together so quickly.

CARLY LAIRD: But he says this is just the beginning of a revolution.

ERIC TOPOL: One of the big ones is patients doing their own imaging so they'll have an ultrasound
and that will be connected to a device like a cell phone and that will acquire and then transmit
over the web, images. So for example, women who have a risk of breast cancer or patients with a
heart problem could send the images of their body directly to their physician for interpretation.

CARLY LAIRD: And there's some good news for those who have trouble remembering to take their
medication.

ERIC TOPOL: The other thing of course is that medications can be tagged and that would be another
way for wireless either tracking that the person who has actually taken the medicine or even
activating the medicine at the appropriate dose and time remotely.

CARLY LAIRD: So is that something that would be underneath the skin that would let the medication
go into the bloodstream?

ERIC TOPOL: Exactly but it wouldn't be under the skin. It would just be a patch on top of the skin.
We are trying to do everything noninvasively. You know, no involvement of procedures or anything in
the body.

CARLY LAIRD: But Dr Topol says one of the biggest improvements will be integrating these
technologies with genomics - that is the study of genetics.

ERIC TOPOL: Well, that is how you prevent diseases. If you know someone's at risk, you know, you
really know this person is at risk before they ever get the disease. Let's say for example
diabetes, you would have a glucose sensor and you'd be tracking this to pre-empt the problem.

They find out where is the glucose high. Is it during the night or is it from certain foods that
they are eating that they didn't realise and for that individual, that knowledge of what is off the
track and what changes, as you say, in lifestyle need to be made. The same for blood pressure.

CARLY LAIRD: But with so much information available to consumers, is there a danger of
self-diagnosis?

Dr Steve Hambleton is the vice president of the Australian Medical Association.

STEVE HAMBLETON: You are quite right to identify self-diagnosis as a major risk because it is
difficult to put together what exactly the diagnosis for an individual patient and there are clues
to that diagnosis but you've got to look at the whole person and think that is what medical
practitioners are trained to do.

But down the track, I think some of these things have got great opportunities because people are
motivated to actually look after themselves properly and if they were able to measure things that
we can't measure today, that could be a great health benefit.

CARLY LAIRD: Do you think it will take the strain off doctors, surgeries and hospitals?

STEVE HAMBLETON: Well, I think it will defer the strain. I think we have made some great gains in
the health promotion, health prevention right now. Our smoking rates are coming down. Our
cardiovascular disease rates are coming down so it probably isn't going to take the pressure off.
It is probably going to defer that for later.

CARLY LAIRD: And he thinks remote monitoring will benefit Australia's rural areas.

STEVE HAMBLETON: I guess we are talking about the next generation of medicine. Allowing someone to
actually manage a large group of people and provide the advice and information they need is going
to be a great advantage to the bush.

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Steve Hambleton, is the vice president of the Australian Medical Association. He
was speaking there to Carly Laird.