A Technological Future for Medicine? What is Our Intention?

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Technology is widely hailed as the driving force or savior of our culture, with what would appear to be a relatively small minority rejecting such notions. Healthcare is a prime example, with many seeing technology as the key to reforming our so-called “broken” system.

Mobile is the current darling of such fans of technology. An article in the current (September/October, 2014) issue of Technology Review illustrates this trend. In a report on “Data Driven Healthcare,” it asks “Can Mobile Technology Fix Medicine?”

For example, there is the prediction “more phones, fewer doctors”. In an interview with Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and now head of Khosla Ventures, he suggests that we each can be the “CEO” of our own healthcare by using cell phone and sensing devices.   He notes Ginger.io using such information to monitor patients with mental illness to see if they are connecting with loved ones and are getting sufficient sleep. If not, a medical alert can be made.

Another company cited is IBM. Its Watson computer became famous for becoming champion of Jeopardy, but that was in effect a publicity stunt because IBM’s intended purposes for it was medical diagnosis. IBM and partners are currently developing Watsons as oncologists.

One more example is 23andme, which offers DNA testing. The company originally marketed this as ancestry tracing but now wants to sell it as a health measure – leading to a cease and desist order by the FDA, which questions its accuracy. 23andme is seeking to overturn that ruling and has a goal of “creating a database of as many as tens of millions of genetic profiles, up from 700,000-plus today. Coupling those profiles with data from customer health surveys could entice pharmaceutical and medical-device companies to pay 23andMe for the chance to look for connections among gene variations, diseases, and drug response at a small fraction of the cost and time needed to do traditional clinical trials.”

computer, money businessAll told, Technology Review notes, hospitals are spending billions on medical data, but so far it has a been a case of “big money, uncertain return”. Nevertheless, companies ranging from Apple to Verizon are trying to get on the health data bandwagon.

Yet one more has just been in the news (Google News, appropriately enough!): Google is testing a new feature whereby if you type medical synptoms into its search engine it will offer a “Talk with a doctor now” link. The video chat is free “during this limited trial period,” though of course if it succeeds user will be charged.

These technological feats are impressive, wonderful even. But they all have in common the fact that they were not devised with the actual intent of improving the world’s health but rather with making money for someone or some company. Indeed, their success is being judged not by whether they in fact are improving peoples’ well-being but by whether they can make a profit. Nothing new there – that’s our system – but one can questions whether more money-driven healthcare is what we really need.

The future of medicine no doubt will contain more and more technology. But will also involve more and more profit making and less and less and less human values?

jim murphyJim Murphy has a solo consulting practice called Management 3000, focusing on organizational development and change management.  Being semi-retired, Jim is willing to provide very reasonably priced consulting, coaching or  project work for organizations aspiring to improvement in organizational culture, effectiveness and employee engagement. Formerly he led the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group, was Human Resources Director for the City of Boston Assessing Department, and served as a consultant with the Boston Management Consortium.  His consulting practice includes management coaching as well as research and writing on employee relationships, leadership, healthcare and collaborative practices.  Having produced newsletters for several organizations  and being a frequent content writer for the”Confident Voices in Healthcare” blog, he is interested in writing and research opportunities, as well as consulting and coaching. www.manage2001.com   jim@manage2001.com

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