When I started thinking about what impact technology has had on the world of health, I couldn’t begin to fit it all into a single column. Instead, I decided to focus on some of the ones that I personally found most interesting.
Parkinson’s disease has gotten a lot more attention lately partly due to the fact that some well known celebrities have it and are raising awareness. Locally, we have Walter Gretzky, dad to the “Great One” of hockey and one of the greatest ambassador’s for a sport you will ever meet. Internationally, actor Michael J. Fox is one of the better known celebrities to have it and has done a lot to create awareness and work on a cure through his foundation. It’s interesting that both are Canadians and both share a great love of hockey.
When I found out about the Gyenno Spoon for hand tremors, I was both surprised and please. Using a number of smart technologies, this spoon (which also has a fork attachment) uses smart sensors and motors to adjust to unintentional hand tremors (often associated with Parkinson’s but can also be caused by various other conditions). I was immediately impressed but also thought it is a great use of technology that will change the lives of the people that use it.
It has the convenience of a regular fork or spoon in that you don’t need to switch it on and off and it automatically sends data about your individual usage to the cloud to adjust itself using algorithms that will improve over time. In that sense, it will adjust to an individual’s condition and even adjust as the condition worsens or improves.
While there is debate about the effectiveness of monitoring sugar levels in patients with Type 2 diabetes, there have been great improvements in the meters that measure those levels. It used to be a much more painful process, requiring larger amounts of blood. Now new technologies are emerging that not only require less blood to check but will, in the future, not require you to draw any blood at all. Non-invasive technologies, including something called near IR, will allow monitors to check your sugar level (among other things) by just being close to you. It looks like the days of the Star Trek medical tricorder are almost here.
Fitness band monitors are also worth mentioning. Only a few years ago there were none and now there are many, including Fitbit, Shine, Jawbone and Garmin to mention just a few. Even new watches, such as the Apple Watch, are including fitness features and Apple itself is devoting a lot of resources to health products.
Of course, the web itself has improved health care in a number of ways. People now have access to all kinds of case studies, information about symptoms and cures. This kind of instant access database would have been a dream to health care professionals that came before us. There is never a true substitute for a real doctor but for many minor conditions the Internet has been extremely helpful in this regard.
The machines health care professionals use have also benefited from technology improvements. The machines are more affordable, more useful, and better at detecting and sharing information about conditions. For example, the days of the standard X-ray that you would hold up to a light box are all but gone. Doctors can now send X-rays to specialists and other offices electronically through e-mail at lightning speed compared to what they were able to do before.
There is no doubt that technology has improved our lives, but there are also some that will say it has created new problems. Long-term effects of cellphones may still not be known, and certainly spending more time sitting at the computer has created sedentary issues for many people that sit at a desk all day. The question is, has it helped more than it has hindered? For me, I truly think it has and it will only get better in time.