While electronic health records, continuous glucose monitors, and the artificial pancreas are at the top of Dr. Hellman’s list of important emerging technologies for people with diabetes, the lives of many will also be affected by other developments in medical technology.
Long-distance patient care
Soon, you may not need to live in or travel to a major city to receive big-city medical care. The American Telemedicine Association paints a picture of having your blood pressure read while you’re at home and the nurse is in the office, of a radiologist reading your medical images from his home in another town, even of a surgeon operating on you from 300 miles away.
This isn’t a dream: It’s happening right now.
An essay in the February 16, 2006, edition of The New England Journal of Medicine noted that in the past, “to examine the heart, the cardiologist could be no farther from the patient than his or her stethoscope allowed, and data gathering required face-to-face discussions with patients and sifting through paper files. But as health care becomes digitized, many activities, ranging from diagnostic imaging to the manipulation of laparoscopic instruments, are rendered borderless.”
What does this mean for you? It may lower the cost of your care, or even save your life.
Say you’re in a serious accident in the middle of the night. Your life depends on having the correct diagnosis fast, and the diagnosis involves having a radiologist read your x-rays. However, there is no radiologist available in the hospital you’ve been taken to, and calling one in would take too much time. Luckily for you, the hospital has a relationship with a radiologist in another part of the world where it’s the middle of the day, so the doctor is in. The image (taken by a technician) is transmitted to the radiologist by computer, and he reads it and sends back the findings.
Telemedicine may also provide more opportunities for people with a chronic illness or condition, such as diabetes, to interact with medical professionals. This, in turn, may lead to improved outcomes: A recent study of people with heart failure, published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health, showed that patients who received follow-up attention by telephone or videotape after hospitalization had a significantly lower hospital readmission rate than those who received no such follow-up. (For more on how telemedicine is changing the face of diabetes care, check out “Telehealth Meets Diabetes.”)
The first step in long-distance robotic surgery was taken on September 7, 2001, when surgeons in New York removed the gallbladder of a 68-year-old woman in France using a high-quality telecommunication system and a three-armed robot. One arm held a camera, and the other two held laparoscopic surgical instruments. Surgeons were on hand in France to take over in case a problem arose.
In an article about the surgery that appeared in the online publication National Geographic News, surgical team member Michael Gagner, then chief of the Division of Laparoscopic Surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, was quoted as saying, “As the technology evolves and becomes available and wiring is more widespread, it will be useful for…performing rare surgery that requires different expertise. A smaller city could have the help of an expert surgeon just by being connected.”
As the technology becomes portable, the article noted, “it should also be possible to perform complex surgery even at remote disaster sites and battlefields, when response time is critical, and in developing countries that have few or no surgeons.”