By Martin Cooper
After decades of existence, the mobile phone is finally beginning to hint at its potential to address some of society’s most important challenges.
As the mobile industry grows out of its vapid obsession with pixels, apps, and bling, recognition of one of the mobile phone’s higher callings is getting attention. This emerging focus on the phone as a device for transferring personalized health information to and from an individual sets society up for revolutionary improvements in healthcare.
Just imagine a society in which diseases, and the pain and suffering they cause, simply do not exist—in which people are healthy until end-of-life. Such a society is within the realm of scientific possibilities, but only if we change our approaches to healthcare. Smarter use of data, enabled by mobile phones, can help as we switch from curing diseases that have already struck to anticipating and preventing the diseases before they strike.
From the time of birth, even healthy bodies, are loaded with viruses, bad bacteria, toxins, and mutated or otherwise corrupted cells, and exposed to undesirable pollutants. Our immune system normally keeps these baddies in check, keeping us “healthy.” When we exhibit symptoms, we are described as “diseased.” Modern medicine, for the most part, uses periodic medical examinations to detect disease.
But modern medicine’s “normal” ranges are too wide to be really useful. We humans come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. A low pulse rate can signal excellent health for one person but danger for another. A perfectly normal blood pressure for Sue can be life threatening for Bob. What we need is a personalized “normal” for each individual.Now suppose it were possible do a complete physical examination on a person every minute with help from body sensors that measure vital signs—signs sensitive enough to detect the onset of diabetes, cancer cells or the beginnings of inflammation—all before any damage is done.
What if that data were delivered to a database in the cloud that correlates the person’s history and genome with the anonymized histories of hundreds of millions of other people?
Then, treatment of these vestigial diseases could be targeted and precise.Consider the onset of a cancer. Detection is the hardest part. Once we know where a few cancer cells have appeared, we can zap them with a laser beam without affecting surrounding tissue. We pretty much know how to do the latter; detection is the current challenge.
This isn’t science fiction, it’s science. Curing cancer will take a while, but scientists are zeroing in on it and diseases such as congestive heart failure, obesity and diabetes. Trials are already in progress for sensors and data analysis tools. Deloitte predicts that this market will grow to $22 billion in the U.S. by 2015.
Problems such as data security and transmission costs have yet to be solved. But they will be—setting up mobile healthcare to become the next technology revolution.
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