This gadget makes our health-care projections obsolete

March 25, 2013

Scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed a minuscule implant that measures various blood chemicals and sends the results, via Bluetooth, to your smart phone. The upside? Your smartphone knows when you're about to have a heart attack. And it can call someone on your behalf. It is, after all ,a smartphone.


First soccer, then surgery. (Dustin Fenstermacher - For The Washington Post)

This particular device might prove, for one reason or another, to be bunk. Many seemingly magical inventions do. But it's not alone. The founder of Blackberry is launching a $99 million fund to "to support entrepreneurs developing real-life 'Star Trek'-style blood-test scanning devices." And every major health device company knows there's billions and billions to be made here.

I've asked experts in health technology whether they believe devices along these lines will be commonplace in 25 years. They invariably do. And they're almost certainly right.

Consider how dramatically these devices will change medicine. Right now, the medical industry is fundamentally reactive. Something goes wrong, and we go to them to fix it. This will make medicine fundamentally proactive. They will see something going wrong, and they will intervene to stop it. It's like "Minority Report" for health care.

This is why I don't put much stock in projections of health-care spending that run 30 or 50 or 75 years into the future. Will biometric devices in constant communication with the cloud make medicine more or less expensive? Will driverless cars prolong life in a way that saves money or costs it? Will the advances in preventive technology make medicine so effective that we're glad to devote 40 percent of gross domestic product to it? Who knows?

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Sarah Kliff | March 25, 2013