I just read and article called "Health Care Monitoring of Mobile Patients" about integrating IT in health care. It has some really good pointers. I can see some really viable spin-off that will increase people's independance and keep them healthy.
You can see really ingenious health monitoring systems sometimes in Sci-Fi movies (like this one, although it's a simple system in this movie), but I don't understand why such things haven't been effectivly pursued yet. Of course, the mere idea of having a computer monitor someone's health signs is scary. Of course, computers can break down, can misinterpret data (let's face it, if it isn't 100% computabel, you'll probably always need a human mind to interpret data). That tends to scare people. But deployed in a sensible, humane way, it could be a very interesting tool for general practitioners and hospital personel. Even 'homes for the elderly' will benefit by such systems.
And they aren't really that hard to implement. We (as in, humankind) can already make portable sensors. We have the technology to make those energy-efficient and that technology is constantly improving. Also, we have the technology to transmit the data wirelessly and even encrypted in a secure way. Why aren't we all implementing all this technology to make us live healthier? Or at least more secure?
Well, as I noted earlier, there are some problems that make an implementation difficult. First of all there's the computer interface. We're not as much accustomed to computers as we'd like to think. Most of us think those overgrown calculators are incapable of actually improving our living standards. That's more a flaw in logic than a real fear, since computers are tools and tools by themself are incapable of improving life. When we say we hate to depend on a computer for a certain thing, it's like saying you'd hate to depend on a door to keep burglars out. It may not be perfect but, hey, at least it's something that seems to be effective. Sure, sometimes doors are forced open and they fail in that function, but is everyone replacing doors with some other technology?
Of course, doors are far simpler than a computer, but they are in essence the same, an invention by humankind to solve some kind of problem. And computers are built to solve a lot of problems. Let's depend on them and make them better, when they fail. Perhaps that's what scares so many people, that they can fail. Yes, they can fail but, you know what? So can humans. I would loose my trust in my own doctor when I actually let numbers of malpractise sink in. I don't, I rather trust in the person. And I would do the same for a technology.
Another problem is communication. When you built those kinds of machines, you need a way for them to talk to each other. And it wouldn't help if the language used, the protocol, was propriertary. I would never, ever trust a machine which used proprietary protocols to communicate to other appliances with my vital statistics. Not ever. Those statistics are way too valuable. I'd consider using a propriertary programme to collect or even analyse the data, but no way in hell will my personal data be transmitted by a proprietary protocol. That's dangerous and simply not controllable. I wouldn't want to take the risk of those data falling into the wrong hands. And I'd like an account of who accesses and analyses my personal data. You know, this might even be one of those things for which DRM would be a solution. Well of course, only if it was some sort of Open DRM, since having this proprietary would create the same trouble as with another proprietary protocol.
There are more hurdles. Just think about the availability of my own medical records. Who should be in control about the data? I want sole control, knowing when anyone accessed my medical records, controlling who can access them and, most importantly, having a copy for myself. Of course, this cannot be possible if you need some sort of proprietary programme to access the data. How about inventing a DTD for XML which can hold all medical records. Including comments made by doctors and even results from tests done in the past. We need such a definition. Globally. Really we do.
Well, that's enough ranting for today. Monique will be here soon to pick me up for dancing. Maybe I'll continue on this topic later. Maybe not.