Democratisation of medicine

September 14, 2018 0 By CH Unnikrishnan

S Harachand

Technology is all around us. Some of it is even starting to look a bit unreal. Eric Topol, in his book “The Patient Will See You Now – The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands”, talks about a soon-to-be real world in which a patient, empowered by technology, has a greater say in the decisions pertaining to his health, or even takes complete charge of his own medical care.

Unquestionably, smartphones, big data, ubiquitous computing and the infinite possibilities of the digital age signal a change —  to emancipate the patient from the bondage of paternalism which has been ruling theme of medical profession for thousands of years. The traditional, godlike persona of the physician, or “the doctor knows best” model, has been encouraged throughout history, based on the simple assumption that the healer possesses “a body of knowledge and skills unavailable to his patient.”

It remains a fact that there does exist a knowledge gap between a doctor, who has been extensively trained, and the individuals without a medical background. This knowledge chasm will continue to remain, even after information and data becomes accessible to all. But the question is about shared decisions. The patient seldom has a say in diagnostic and treatment decisions, even though he or she has all the right to.

The great leveling force, information technology, has now demolished the walls. It has enabled open platforms, open access and open science. And the time has come for open medicine.

Topol sets the agenda for the transition from autocratic to semi-autonomous medicine.

He envisions the day when smartphones perform blood tests, while medical scans and bloodstream-embedded biosensors pick up genomic signals, and MRI scanners come “as thin as a dime”.

The days are not far off when biosensors that monitor the patient’s vitals, his compliance with medications and even his gait at home settings obviating the need for hospitals.

A cardiologist and tech enthusiast, Topol clearly sees the democratisation of medicine on the threshold. He pictures it as the emancipation of medicine to “a new data science, with each individual capable of calling the shots”, and the emancipation of the patient from the shackles of authoritarianism — all guided by a powerful, common smartphone pathway.