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Who Knows More – Your Doctor or Your Phone?

11 October 2012 in Trading Ideas

A recent New York Times article delivers an anecdote that highlights the tightrope walked by old and young physicians in the digital age.

A young third-year resident, exhausted by being on call for 24 hours, was at a loss for recalling the correct infusion of saline for an elderly patient who had a dangerously low sodium level.

His solution? Pulling his iPhone out of his pocket, clicking on an app called MedCalc, which produced the correct treatment rate.

The Times article then neatly introduces the codgy old veteran, whose doctoring involves quaint practices such as looking directly at patients and writing down notes on real, tree-based paper.

And so goes the state of practicing medicine, according to the Times – a generational divide among physicians that forces the question: Is there a point where too much technology is a detriment to patient care?

Of course, any science has always been influenced by the march of technological innovation. That’s one of the key attractions of biotech investing, for example – that the next big thing might be just one small scientific discovery away. (The Biotech Breakthroughs motif is up 4.4% in the past month, compared with the S&P 500’s decline of 0.1%).

Few people would deny the use of tech tools that make healthcare smarter and more efficient. But at the extreme end of things, one may begin to question whether the access to medical information may result in an increasingly smaller role by the traditional doctor. That’s the tack taken in a recent piece on Gigaom by Jason Jacobs, founder and CEO of RunKeeper, which makes a personal-training app. 

For Jacobs, the huge amount of data kept on smartphones has already begun to cross over to more accessible health information that people can track themselves. Already, smartphones with sensors can track increasingly relevant data like heart rate, glucose levels and body temperature.

Over time, Jacobs argues, people will rely more on their phone to keep them healthy than they do a real doctor. Rather than the yearly checkup, you’ll be monitored every day by your phone. “It also means that doctors will be empowered with a lot more data on what their patients are up to between visits, which will help them provide better care.”

It remains to be seen whether doctors looking into the eyes of fewer patients is the right path to take.

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