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The Health Tech Our Toddlers Should Never Know

by Kim Bellard, May 23, 2019

Joanna Stern wrote a fun article for The Wall Street Journal: "The Tech My Toddler Will Never Know: Six Gadgets Headed for the Graveyard."  My immediate thought was about health tech's equivalent list.  There certainly is a lot of health tech that should be headed to the graveyard, but, knowing healthcare's propensity to hang on to its technology way too long, I had to modify her more optimistic headline to say "should" instead of "will."

One can always hope.  Here's my healthcare tech list:

1.  Faxes:  You knew it had to be at the top of the list.  Anyone under thirty who knows how to work a fax machine probably works in healthcare.  The reason faxes persist is because they supposedly offer some security advantages, but one suspects inertia plays at least a big a role. There are other options that can be equally "secure," while making the information digital. 

2.  Phone Trees:  We've all had to call healthcare organizations -- doctors' offices, testing facility, health plans, etc.  Most times, you first have to navigate a series of prompts to help specify why you are calling, presumably to get you closer to the right person.  There are probably studies that show it saves money for the companies that use them, and perhaps some that even claim its saves customers time, but this is not a technology most people like. By 2030 I want my AI -- Alexa, Siri, etc. -- to deal directly with the companies' AI to spare me from phone trees. 

3.  Multiple health records: I have at least five distinct health records that I know of, only two of which communicate to the other at all.  For people with more doctors and/or more complex health issues, I'm sure the situation is even worse.  EHRs are old technology, the cable of healthcare.  By 2030, we should each have a single health record that reflects the broad range of our health.

4.  Stethoscopes:   You've seen them. Your doctor probably has one.  Find the oldest photographs of doctors that exist and you might find them with stethoscopes; they are that old.” It's not that they are useless, but as it is that there are better alternatives, such as handheld ultrasounds or even smartphone apps.  For Pete's sake, people are working on real-life tricorders.   By 2030, seriously, can we be using its 21st century alternatives?  

5.  Endoscopes: Perhaps you've had a colonoscopy or other endoscopic procedure; not much fun, right?  We do a lot of them, they cost a lot of money (at least, in the U.S.), and they involve some impressive technology, but they're outdated. By 2030, we should be using things like ingestible pill cameras, with ingestible robots to take any needed samples or even conduct any microsurgery. 

6.  Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is literally a lifesaver for many cancer patients, and a life-extender for many others.  We're constantly getting new breakthroughs in it, allowing more remissions or more months of life.  But it can pose a terrible burden -- physically, emotionally, and financially -- on the people getting it.  Chemotherapy has been likened to carpet bombing, with significant collateral damage.  Increasingly, there are alternatives that are more like "smart bombing" -- precision strikes that target only cancer cells, either killing or inhibiting them.  By 2030, perhaps cancer patients won't fear the treatments almost as much as the cancer.

Healthcare certainly has no shortage of technology that we should hope today's toddlers will never have to use or experience.  The above are just six suggestions, and you may have your own examples.  We can make these happen, by 2030; the question is, will we?

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting.

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