We can rebuild him. We have the technology.

March 1, 2009 at 1:39 pm Leave a comment

I’m always amused when I go to the doctor and I see the inevitable bookshelf of old-school files behind the receptionist.  I can’t help but wonder if these people have heard of these things called “computers” and everything they could do to help them sort and organize their files.  Maybe I underestimate the discomfort most “normal” (read: non-programmers) have with computer technology.

With that background, I’m pretty excited about Obama’s call to implement health care reform, and as part of that his push for electronic health records.  Beyond the basic efficiencies of better organization and backup, there is the potential for communications between offices and insurance companies.  Imagine going to a new doctor and not having to fill out a form listing your medical history, known allergies, current medications, etc.  It really boggles me why this hasn’t happened already.

Every time I’ve gone to a doctor, they’ve taken a very basic history, but nothing more detailed than that, and certainly no more thorough than what I can recall.  Wouldn’t we all benefit from a lifetime medical history?  Why should doctors have to rely on my limited understanding of my past ailments, rather than the opinions and diagnoses of my previous doctors?

But even beyond this benefit, I think the potential for discovering new cure’s and drug interactions is the real hidden benefit here.  Imagine have access to the (anonymous) records of every American in the country?  What symptoms they have, what the diagnosis was, how it was treated, what drugs they were taking, what side effects they reported?  How many times have we seen a drug previously prescribed for one ailment suddenly re-emerge as an effective treatment for another?  I think this is potentially a much more important aspect of electronic health records.  What kind of treatments and discoveries can be made when such a database of health statistics is compiled?  Something like Google’s Flu Trends is just the start.  What if we could pinpoint potential environmental health hazards based on the medical data coming from a particular community?  I used to live in LA, and it’s well known that the incidence of lung-related health problems is much higher there.  What else could be affected?

One could even imagine this data being used to enact legislation, and certainly be used to test the counter the effectiveness claims of pharmaceutical companies.  No wonder there seems to be so much opposition to this, beyond the usual cries of “socialism” and “big government.”

I really hope Obama succeeds in his health care reforms.  This is going to be a very exciting time to be alive.

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Finally, an administration that respects science What’s wrong with the news?

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