Digital Health

IDF Fall 2008 - As well as education, Craig Barrett talked about improving healthcare.

You often find that education and healthcare go hand in hand when it comes to political agendas, so it came as no surprise that Craig Barrett also touched on the subject of technology in healthcare. Barrett was keen to point out that utilising a technology that has been around many years could make the health service far more efficient.

He was, of course, talking about the telephone. The point Barrett was making, was that people could phone a doctor for advice, before going to a surgery or hospital, it could alleviate pressure on doctors, and reduce waiting times for patients. This seemed a little bit strange to me, since in the UK we can call NHS Direct and speak to a doctor any time of day or night and it doesn’t cost us a thing. I guess I sometimes forget how lucky we are to have the NHS – despite the woeful lack of government funding it gets.

But the meat to Barrett’s digital health segment was the concept of using connected devices to help with medical care. He invited a Columbian doctor onto the stage, and then lay on the floor, pretending to have been in an accident. The doctor removed Barrett’s ID card and scanned it with his mobile phone. This gave him Barrett’s complete medical history, thus ensuring that he could receive the best treatment, without the fear of complications.

As well as gaining access to Barrett’s medical history, the doctor was also able to send a message directly to his regular physician, informing him that Barrett was receiving medical attention. This obviously also allows Barrett’s regular physician to contact the doctors treating him, and offer advice and help as necessary.

For best effect, the physician that received the message about Barrett’s unfortunate accident was in India, and we were treated to a live link across the world, where Craig’s doctor studied his medical details and ascertained that he needed to partake in more “romantic exercise” – hardly an upsetting diagnosis.

The live link to India allowed the doctors to tell us about the HMRI (Health Management Research Institute) initiative. The doctors explained that the problem in India is that the majority of doctors are located in cities, while the majority of potential patients are in rural areas.

Using technology, the HMRI has managed to offer medical advice and assistance to people who have no medical facilities near them. Simply dialling 104 will put even remote citizens through to a doctor for medical advice, while dialling 108 will connect people to the emergency medical assistance line.

Of course even this system doesn’t change the fact that a patient can be a long way from the nearest doctor, but at least it gives them the ability to call for medical help, and perhaps even be told that they have nothing to worry about. What’s scary though, is that a remote province in India has a medical help system in place, the likes of which doesn’t exist in the US.

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