The 7 must-haves for the 21st century doctor
While change is being embraced by Doctor Who by casting two female lead roles in a series that is traditionally seen to have male leads, real doctors today should take some note of this fictional doctor when it comes to change. For many years, doctors have used traditional methods of dealing with patients in consultations, a role template that goes a little like this: patient visits doctor who continues to use traditional manual techniques, don’t forget the stethoscope, and then they will prescribe some medication or lifestyle change. In some cases, where specific requirements are necessary, they will have a more diagnostic treatment plan which has an ultrasound, X-ray, or specialist referral.
But, we now find ourselves entering the third decade of the 21st century and the changes brought by digital health have rapidly changed the way that doctor-patient consultations now work. The 21st-century doctor now carries a whole array of diagnostic tools in his briefcase, and yes, unfortunately, the iconic stethoscope is now a little outdated!
So, exactly what are all these necessary devices for the 21st-century doctor? Any why don’t we see them out and about trying to put Doctor Who to shame? Are these new devices replacements for the traditional healthcare options?
Throughout this article, we will explore these questions and more as we look at the 7 must-haves for the 21st-century doctor.
1. The stethoscope goes digital
If we could go back in time to the 19th century, when the stethoscope was invented by a French physician called Dr. Laënnec, we would see that the same resistance to changing technologies was prevalent back then too. Many physicians at the time thought that using an instrument would distance them from the patient. They preferred to use their ears instead of technology. Three decades later, and the stethoscope is the most widely accepted instrument for its usefulness. It has also become the most traditionally universal symbol of being a physician. We can however say that the stethoscope has now become quite outdated in the digital health era.
The Eko Core, an FDA-approved, CR-cleared, and HIPAA-compliant device is the new revolution of stethoscopes. It can amplify the sounds of the heart by 40 times when in digital mode. It reduces white noise and can work in seven different amplification settings. It has the capability to allow the user to fine-tune the readings using settings such as which organ they are focusing on (lung, heart, etc) and the patient’s position (standing, sitting). The app allows the user to save and share their recordings, and of course, there is even live streaming functionality for telemedicine purposes.
2. A palm-sized ECG device
If someone asks you to think about the electrocardiogram (ECG) device, you will probably imagine a huge machine with many wires that are hooked up to a screen giving someone’s heart activity. In today’s digital health era, this machine has been down-sized so it can fit in the palm of your hand. An FDA-cleared device called the KardiaMobile 6L is a 6-lead medical-grade pocket-sized ECG machine that can measure the heart and detect conditions such as abnormally high/low heart rates (tachycardia/bradycardia) and atrial fibrillation (AFib). It sends the readings directly to your smartphone and the results can either be stored and/or shared.
3. Blood pressure readings in half a minute
Another age-old medical device getting the digital overhaul is the blood pressure monitor. This centuries-old machine was invented in 1881, and the new digital health era’s machine is very different. The FDA cleared a line of iHealth blood pressure monitors and an example is the iHealth Clear which measures diastolic, systolic, and heart rate in around half a minute. It connects instantly to your smartphone so results can be sorted in a digital logbook. It is then possible to compare readings with previous measurements to help make better lifestyle decisions for preventing and treating blood pressure.
4. Ultra-portable ultrasound
You may not believe it, but we now live in a world where portable and advanced ultrasound machines exist. The Clarius Portable Ultrasound and the Philips Lumify are two of the new devices on the market and they are able to take ultrasound readings outside of the hospital – you can literally use it wherever you are. These two machines mentioned can pair directly with a smartphone or smart device in real-time. They give high-resolution ultrasound images, very similar to those you get from the traditional machines. Digital health is at its finest here, as state-of-the-art medical care is brought to wherever it is needed, rather than the patient having to go to a medical facility to access it.
5. Ear tech in your pocket
Most ear assessments are pretty uncomfortable for patients and they can be difficult for the physician if the ear is small or the canal is partially obstructed. The pocket-sized WiscMed otoschop, however, overcomes these challenges as it comes complete with its built-in nano camera so you can achieve clear images of the eardrum. These images can be examined on a computer screen in either image or video mediums, without the patient being uncomfortable.
6. High-tech eye tech
EyeQue produced a device that has changed the eye tests of the future. It is a tech-based on an exclusively licensed MIT patent. There are two devices, one is the Personal Vision Tracker which measures the patient’s refractive status, including near or farsightedness and astigmatism, and the EyeQue Insight shows the visual acuity. The devices are light, accurate, and inexpensive and they allow for eye tests to be performed remotely. They can be taken to wherever they are needed, once again, bringing promise to the digital health era.
7. The all-in-one package?
While every physician may have drooled over the tricorder from Star Trek, the device used to analyze many of the patient’s parameters from a single device, we have the Viacom CheckMe Pro which is the closest thing to it. This portable device is FDA-approved and it measures the blood oxygen level, ECG, body temperature, step count, heart rate, and many other parameters of health. Other companies are working on similar ideas such as the MedWand and the BioSticker from BioIntelliSense which were showcased at the latest CES. It will be great to see them in action.
Is resistance to change futile or not?
It may be that many technology companies have devices that are readily available, however, reports suggest that only 35% of doctors are likely to use these new devices such as AI and telemedicine in the future. So just why are these new technologies not widely adopted?
To begin with, a lot of the reason is that many don’t actually know that such devices exist. Doctors have their busy routines and they do keep up to date with the newest research, such as what tech like CRISPR has to offer, but they don’t know about other new technologies straight away. Some physicians will also think that new technological advancements are too expensive or unavailable. However, many have been approved by the FDA and other regulatory bodies, they are available on the market, and they are less expensive than their traditional bulky counterparts.
The EyeQue Personal Vision Tracker, for example, costs only $35. The new Littmann Master Cardiology stethoscope is marked at about $200. And at around $250 is the Eko Core Digital Stethoscope. This isn’t a promotional advert, but merely pointing out the costs involved with these new technologies.
In addition, there is still widespread reluctance to adopt their new technologies, just as Dr. Laënnec faced. A lot of people think that the art of medicine will come to an end, but in fact, these devices allow doctors to form better relationships with their patients by getting more accurate and timely results. These devices will help global health and the reality is, that sooner or later, they will be used widely across the healthcare field.
This is not a hospital-in-a-bag
As good as the title of this section might be, these devices are not going to replace hospitals altogether. There will always be the need for more in-depth assessments such as lab analysis, surgery, MRI scans, and focus on critical cases will be hospital-based. These portable diagnostic devices can, in fact, reduce some of the burdens of healthcare centers, thereby letting these clinics focus on patient care and critical care. Here’s how:
It is forecast by the WHO that there will be a global shortage of 12.9 million healthcare workers by 2035. With the introduction of these devices, medical professionals can perform simple assessments wherever they are. They can then send the results to physicians for more detailed analysis. These devices will help underdeveloped and remote regions and this is where digital health really has the most potential.
It may also be apparent from the devices that we have listed, that they take the burden away from the healthcare system, but not only that, they also empower patients. As these technologies are more widely adopted and more affordable than ever, patients are becoming the point-of-care. It will be possible for them to monitor their own health parameters, share the results with their doctors, and take further actions if abnormal readings are given. All of these initial stage readings can be done from the patient’s home, and only when abnormal results are found will they go to the hospital or a healthcare clinic for further analysis.
Digital health is revolutionizing the healthcare field. It is providing communication, health education, and moving the point-of-care to where it should be, with the patient. Policymakers need to create incentives for physicians and healthcare facilities to adopt these evolving technologies and bring awareness to patients about their benefits. They also need to bring awareness to their medical professionals and incentivize them to bring, try, and share their new devices at conferences, and doctor-patient meetings.
Anything is possible in this new era of digital health, we are seeing technology constantly disrupting the healthcare landscape for the benefit of both doctor and patient.