December 12, 2014

EKG read out

What do home diagnostic tests mean for doctors, patients, and health care costs? Credit: Ken Fager / Flickr Creative Commons

Question: What do insulin pumps, at-home pregnancy tests, and space medicine have in common?

Answer: They can be administered without a doctor, and they might be the future of medicine.
 
“We get to ask this question of ourselves: What do we want our medical care to be like, and how much do we want it to be in our own hands versus in the hands of a clinician?” says Andrew Ellington, a professor and researcher at the University of Texas at Austin.
 
In the face of the Affordable Care Act and the evolution of the primary care clinic, people are changing the way they access health care. One big transformation is the move from receiving care at a doctor’s office to administering it yourself, at home.
 
Scientists like Eugene Chan of the DNA Medicine Institute are developing technologies that could allow you to test everything from your heart rate to whether or not you have cancer. “The world’s going to be different,” he says.
 
But the goal isn’t to make physicians obsolete – it’s to give people greater access to medical care, and maybe even lower costs. Chan started out by inventing ways for astronauts to test and treat themselves in space – a “low-resource setting” similar to a rural area or developing country with few doctors on hand.
 
With the advent of at-home testing, patients will also be able to track their vitals and compare themselves with people around the world. “It’s not just the democratization of health care,” says Ellington. “It really, to me, will change the underlying economics of the system.”
 
Of course, the idea of collecting and aggregating lots of personal medical data leads to concerns over personal privacy – who gets access to this data, and how secure will it be? Ellington also worries about the dangers of a world in which too much emphasis is placed on genetics and quantifiable data, such as in the sci-fi flick Gattaca:
 

 
“We’re used to genetics defining us a little bit,” he says, “but we live in a world where genetics don’t completely define us, where our individual characteristics, our backgrounds, our education, and our grit make us who we are.”
 
“There are concerns,” he adds, “but again, I think the nice thing is that in this society, we get to define what those concerns are.”

Body and Mind, home diagnostics, Eugene Chan, Andrew Ellington, health care

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