Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
High-Tech Health Care

High-Tech Health Care

This past week, I attended a meeting here at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) on telemedicine. We have a good telemedicine program and it is continually getting better. I am always pleased to run into or be contacted by hospital administrators who wish to bring TTUHSC telemedicine services to their facilities and put them in touch with the highly qualified people who manage our program.  We have been able to help hospitals in Childress, Del Rio and Pampa, to name a few.

As most everybody knows by now, telemedicine refers to the provision of health care services over a distance through the use of telecommunications technology. I want to mention a couple of other terms that sound very similar to telemedicine, but have slightly or significantly different meanings. The first is telehealth. It allows for such things as remote doctor-patient consultations (telemedicine), but also the remote monitoring of blood pressure, ECG or other vital signs and health education services. Through telehealth technology, medical practitioners are able to evaluate and diagnose patients remotely, prescribe treatment, e-prescribe medications and quickly detect fluctuations in the patient’s medical condition. With this real-time data, practitioners are able to alter therapy or do some other needed intervention.

Other experts speak of telecare, which is technology that allows patients to stay safe and independent in their own homes, through the use of telecommunications technology including telephones, computers and mobile monitoring devices such as alarms, automatic gas shut-off devices and home entry videophones. My father-in-law wears a remote monitoring device and we have received multiple calls regarding issues, which thankfully have not been serious so far.  But, we appreciate the technology.

All of this was on my mind this past weekend as I read a popular fiction novel called “Cell” by Robin Cook, M.D.  You have probably heard of Dr. Cook, if not for his novels then the movies that come from them such as “Coma,” “Virus” and “Foreign Body.” He notoriously uses many twists and turns to weave his tales of high intrigue and drama, which are always in a medical setting.

In “Cell,” a technology company has developed a mobile app called iDoc that provides primary care to a large group of patients who were also beta testers for the technology. The patients love it until some unexpected things happen. That is where the intrigue begins and it makes for a good read. And, like a lot of good fiction, Cook’s books cause one to think.

It made me wonder about current health technology and the future of information technology, nanotechnology and genomics. Apple’s Health app arrived in iOS 8, and it is now on every up-to-date iPhone. This app appears simple at first glance, but it hides a lot of data and advanced functionality. The Health app is actually the user-visible face of HealthKit, Apple’s attempt at putting all health data in one place. The data could feasibly be linked to Cerner, our electronic health record, in the future. The Health app raises some obvious and important questions. Where is information stored and maintained? How is a person’s medical history protected if the phone is lost? How can emergency care providers access needed data and bypass the requirement for a password? Can the data entered by the patient be deemed reliable enough to consider in preparing a treatment plan?

Authors like Cook offer entertainment, but also raise important fundamental questions about our society and the world of medicine. Their work certainly gives us a lot to ponder, especially in the context of current health technology.

Written by: Brent Magers, CEO