Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Additional Advances To Expect in Medical Care

In the last post I referred to the advances in biological sciences and some in engineering and computer science. Here are some more that will have a tremendous impact on your care now and into the future.

With the improvements in imaging devices such as MRI and CT scanners, it is now possible to do many procedures much less invasively in the radiology suite rather than in the OR as before. Uterine fibroids can be destroyed by passing a small catheter [about the size of a spaghetti noodle] into the arteries that feed the fibroid. Then small particles are inserted that block off that blood supply and the fibroid basically withers away. It is a rapid procedure with minimal recuperation time, especially compared to surgical removal of the uterus [hysterectomy.] Another example is resolving an aneurysm in the brain using similar catheters without the need for open neurosurgery.
Some tumors of the brain can be successfully treated with the “gamma knife” which is designed to give a huge dose of radiation to the tumor but not the rest of the brain. It is done in one procedure and the patient goes home the same or the next day. Other new radiation therapy procedures utilize very sophisticated equipment that can deliver the correct dose of radiation to the tumor, say in the prostate, but avoid most of the surrounding tissue such as the rectum and bladder. This makes the treatment more effective yet with fewer side effects.

Slowly but surely, all medical information is being digitized. As this happens it will be finally possible to have a total electronic medical record. This will mean your medical data is available anyplace, anytime. And it will mean that if you are sent to a specialist that your CT scan is available on line and you will not have to go to the radiology office to get it before visiting the specialist. This will save you time; the specialist can make an informed opinion immediately and will mean reduced costs. There are some important hurdles to overcome before this will be a reality but I am confident that they will be solved relatively soon.

With these and other advances medical care will be more custom tailored just for you; there will be a greater focus on prevention; it will be possible to repair, restore or replace a damaged organ; your medical data will be instantly available and medical care will be safer. Big advances.

Praise for Dr Schimpff

The craft of science writing requires skills that are arguably the most underestimated and misunderstood in the media world. Dumbing down all too often gets mistaken for clarity. Showmanship frequently masks a poor presentation of scientific issues. Factoids are paraded in lieu of ideas. Answers are marketed at the expense of searching questions. By contrast, Steve Schimpff provides a fine combination of enlightenment and reading satisfaction. As a medical scientist he brings his readers encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. As a teacher and as a medical ambassador to other disciplines he's learned how to explain medical breakthroughs without unnecessary jargon. As an advisor to policymakers he's acquired the knack of cutting directly to the practical effects, showing how advances in medical science affect the big lifestyle and economic questions that concern us all. But Schimpff's greatest strength as a writer is that he's a physician through and through, caring above all for the person. His engaging conversational style, insights and fascinating treasury of cutting-edge information leave both lay readers and medical professionals turning his pages. In his hands the impact of new medical technologies and discoveries becomes an engrossing story about what lies ahead for us in the 21st century: as healthy people, as patients of all ages, as children, as parents, as taxpayers, as both consumers and providers of health services. There can be few greater stories than the adventure of what awaits our minds, bodies, budgets, lifespans and societies as new technologies change our world. Schimpff tells it with passion, vision, sweep, intelligence and an urgency that none of us can ignore.

-- N.J. Slabbert, science writer, co-author of Innovation, The Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st Century Global Economy (with Aris Melissaratos, director of technology enterprise at the John Hopkins University).