The do-it-yourself health-care revolution gets a boost


A doctor holds her stethoscope in an outpatients ward at a hospital in west London April 4, 2011. (TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS)

As Paul Wicks of PatientsLikeMe.com explained at Lift, it’s all about putting patients at the center of the health care system. The Internet is as much an informational resource as it is a way to mobilize around specific issues. With PatientsLikeMe.com, patients now have an online social network for interacting with others who have similar symptoms, all of whom are seeking the same cure. The goal is to be able to crowdsource a cure by pooling together the data about their symptoms and sharing information about the side effects from treatments in an informal community.

How health care innovators have embraced the open-source mentality in creating new, low-cost solutions is just as exciting. Instead of research and development being something proprietary -- locked away in a company research lab -- it is now viewed as something to be shared freely. Now, innovation is flowing from patients to their health care providers, not the other way around. And here’s the latest idea: Open-sourcing the manufacture of low-cost, high-quality prosthetics. That’s the vision of Jonathan Kuniholm and the Open Prosthetics Project, which uses the tagline “Prosthetics shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.” Indeed.

What does all of this mean for the future of health care? It’s easy to see how fundamental concepts underpinning the growth of the Web - from crowdsourcing to open source to the social graph - are now rapidly transforming the way we think about health care solutions. At the same time, mobile devices with geo-location functionality and cheap, low-cost sensors are making it possible for anyone to record data about their bodies. For example, check out Asthmapolis, which combines an asthma inhaler with GPS functionality to track patients’ medication use and, from there, discover high-usage zones.

We may be witnessing a bold new revolution powered by passionate innovators – many of them with a very real physiological stake in the final outcome of their projects.

Dominic Basulto is a futurist and blogger based in New York City.
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