Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Doctor Just “Friended” My Pancreas

A Future with Biotelemetry

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a bioengineer, and I don’t play one on TV (with apologies to both Robert Young and Marcus Welby, M.D.)

You may already know that you can buy a bathroom scale that tweets your weight, or a home blood pressure cuff that tweets your blood pressure.  Surely all your friends want to see this data about you.  And seeing it once isn’t enough -- they need to see it every day.

Okay they don’t need to.  But if they follow you on Twitter, they might have to.

Biotelemetry involves the measurement and communication of health information. Possibly sent frequently.  Maybe not via Twitter, and maybe not to your friends.  More useful would be to your health care providers.  Maybe it could be sent frequently enough to allow them to do something very useful with the data.  

Sensors and devices on your end and biotelemetry software running at your doctor’s office might together uncover trends like your weight or blood pressure going up.  Now clearly tracking your weight in some fancy new way isn't very exciting.  But what really could be interesting is real-time sharing of vital signs that might allow your health care providers to recognize early indicators of, say, a heart attack or stroke about to happen.  What if they could do so and could contact you and, using geolocation information, direct you to the nearest hospital?  What if they also contact the hospital with information on your identity, suspected condition, and relevant medical history?  

What if all this could happen not just for the very sick or the very rich, but for large portions of the adult population? It seems likely that this could help to save some lives.  Maybe a lot of lives.

It also seems to me that most or all of the technology needed to achieve this is in existence today.  Much of it is even cheap. Tweeting scales have demonstrated that at least some people are comfortable with the idea of biotelemetry, and that it doesn’t take anything much more complicated than Twitter to communicate. Replace Twitter in that picture with secure, encrypted communications of this data to your designated health care providers and your doctor might soon be providing you with a valuable new set of services.

  • Do you want this future?  Why or why not? 
  • Do you have relatives whose use of pacemakers or other medical equipment already involves the transmission of data to their doctors?  Does it work well and do they like this?  Are there privacy concerns?

Let’s hear your thoughts.


  1. I want a full medical lab in my pocket. Distributed medicine is the future of medicine. Doctors may or may not be involved.

  2. I am against the new technology that you speak of. I would like people to take better care of themselves, rather than the current trend of eating like shit, not exercising- and swallowing a handful of prescription drugs everyday-only to step on a hi tech scale that will relay info to a doctor that doesn't even know his patients name. We need more doctors today like Marcus Welby, with his emphasis on beside manner as well as diagnosis. Let's save the latest technologies on the stuff that is really important, like when, where, and what you are eating :)

  3. and- let's not forget Dr Steven Kiley!

  4. 1. The insurance companies would also love this data...that way they could anticipate what to refuse to cover, well in advance of a patient ever knowing himself.

    2. It requires tech savvy Doctors. Does anyone except me see a problem here?

    3. I would rather we had basic services for all, rather than invest in high end solutions for the few/rich.