The Future of Medicine: Working Better With Patients

The many cutting edge companies that were present at FutureMed in San Diego and what they paint for the future of medicine for both physicians and patients.

Photography by author.

Speakers at the FutureMed 2013 Conference this November 2013 in San Diego, Calif. began by discussing exponential thinking. This link is not FutureMed’s definition, but one that has simplified my understanding that the world around us is changing on a logarithmic scale. To a degree, I understood Moore’s Law but I had to understand exponential change and opinions that might differ from FutureMed’s before I came to the conference.

Human development over the centuries has been local and linear. The human brain was hardwired that way because everything was within a day’s walk. Scientists say today is different. Changes are disruptive but that can be an opportunity. Kodak was given as an example.

In 1996 Kodak’s market capitalization was $28 billion and it had 140,000 employees. By 2012 it was bankrupt and had 17,000 employees. In contrast, Instagram went to a market capitalization of $1 billion with a mere 13 employees in Oct 2010 through April 2012, Although all this was possibly more meaningful for the venture capitalists at the FutureMed 2013 Conference than practicing physicians, the advice of “Opportunity!” rang loud from podium speakers.

“Medical institutions expand to stay competitive,” they noted. And in warning how disruption can give opportunities, one speaker gave two opinions about change: 1) You either disrupt your own company or someone else will, and 2) If you depend on innovation from within your own company, you lose.

Yet, the world is changing around us. The speakers gave miscellaneous examples. Many people don’t hail a cab now; they get one by using their smart phone. And the cost of a complete human genome study has fallen now to below $1,000. Furthermore, the National Geographic magazine has a cover of a baby with the story: “This baby will live to 120.” There’s more. Medical apps exist to allow a smartphone to act as a wheezemeter for asthmatics, as an instrument to test range of motion for arthritics or as a device to create an ever useful EKG. You can screw an otoscope speculum into an iPhone and visualize the eardrum — and just as OnStar can carry out remote vehicle diagnostics, forthcoming device SCANADU can read your vital signs or even test your urine. Smokers might be influenced by a Finnish website tobaccobody.fi to quit smoking. It is, indeed, a new world out there.

One speaker was challenged. “You’re not going to get doctors aged 65 to embrace all this!” he was told.

“I’m not really interested in doctors aged 65,” he replied very earnestly. “I want to work with young doctors who’ve just graduated, who understand this future!”

Having graduated from med school in 1958, I shrink down in my padded armchair in this gorgeous ballroom at the Hotel del Coronado and try to look inconspicuous.

Nevertheless, even an older physician finds much of this fascinating.

Much in the future could help doctors — and patients.

For example, get Beam and “The world is your office.” Essentially, it’s a television screen on a mobile pedestal with dual cameras for navigation and interaction. It has many uses, one being you can have one in your base office or home or hospital and another in a secondary location. Both are manned and communicate in real time. Sure, in emergency situations we’re used to transmitting digital images and data but this is much more elaborate and useful with its voice capability.

How much? About $16,000 for one, plus $950 for a charging dock. Annual service $2,200. “Buy three and get 15 percent off!”

Then there’s the InBody Biospace machine that covers more than your weight. It measures your fat content, too, not by checking some “pinch an inch” fat folds but by measuring your water/lean content by bioelectrical impedance — then everything else is fat. I read this is a useful modality for catching pediatric obesity.

“The manufacturer is South Korean and the government there has mandated there will be an InBody in every K-12 school in South Korea,” Mary Weyrick, InBody’s regional manager West.

I digest that and wonder if we are indeed losing our way in this country.

Sotera Wireless, with an innovative way of recording patients’ vital signs, presented a brief video and exhibited its products amongst other manufacturers. By chance, Sotera is a San Diego-based company and has already signed up the newest hospital in Southern California, Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, to use its ViSi Mobile System. Patients wear the monitor like a large wristwatch

I find other San Diego companies involved in medical innovation. I shouldn’t have been surprised. My BioTech city is one of the national leaders in this field.

Olin Hyde, the founder and CEO of englue, gives me his card. The website explains that the company uses artificial intelligence to data-mine PubMed and other medical research in context. Hyde demonstrates how englue’s artificial intelligence finds connections between disparate research paper while I muse that the increase in medical research has gone exponential, too; the wiz kids in my med school in the 1950s who felt they were keeping up to date with published material no longer can feel that way.

Terje Norderhaug, originally from Norway, gives me his card, also. He founded Predictably Well with his wife, Juliet Oberding, who wondered if the flare up patterns in her rheumatoid arthritis could be predicted by analytical technology, the field that interested the couple. Looking for what contributed to good days and triggered bad ones they created a free iPhone app that is using San Diego as its test bed before going national. It won the Qualcomm Health and Fitness mobile app 2013 competition focusing on chronic conditions like asthma and eczema and autoimmune diseases.

Many cutting edge companies competed for attendees’ attention: smartphone physicals, low blood sugar alert systems, musical health programs, big data analysis, 3D Modeling, and Google Glass and its smaller competitor :Vuzix Smart Glasses. I chatted with Dan C. Cui, the vice president of business development. Vuzix is in the forefront of smart glasses, holds 36 patents and just this December 2013 with Nokia has announced a new “Waveguide optics engine” to fit into standard glass frames.

It takes more than a medical degree to understand in depth much of the presentations at FutureMed Conferences. An MBA might help or the skills of financial training. Still an MD hears ideas truly outside the box, stuff that would surely stimulate excitement in any physician.

Next week, I will address some other FutureMed ideas to help tomorrow’s patients and I’ll consider touching on complaints about today’s physicians.

Read Part 1.

The Andersons live in San Diego. Eric is a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, he was a senior contributing editor at Physician’s Management for ten years and a contributing editor to Geriatrics and to Medical Tribune at the same time. He has written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.