Existing Technology Could Make a Difference, Why Re-Invent the Wheel?

The following article is my personal opinion and does not reflect those of any health care system in Australia. I am not speaking for or on behalf of any facility or department or person. These are my own views and opinions as a member of the public, in relation to new technology and embracing those technologies for the benefit of patients.

Digital Pen Camera

I really hope that some politician somewhere is paying attention right now. Today I read an article about a new USB camera. It is called the Digital Pen Camera. This camera is special, what makes it special is that it is a small, very small. This means that the applications for medicine are exciting.

Measuring 14cm in length and 12.2 cm in diameter, so it is shaped like a pen. With this size comes the fact that it is also capable of really clear close ups up to 9mm from the subject. I could go into the rest of what makes this all possible but that would just be reiterating Dan’s Data’s excellent review, which you should read if you are interested.

While the technical specifications of this tiny camera are interesting even amazing, what is more interesting to me is what sort of things are possible with it, especially in regards to medicine. Here is an example of what this camera is capable of:

(This video has no sound)

Not sure if Dan knew what he was looking at inside his own ear, but that is a video of his ear drum. In fact it is a pretty good quality image that, in my opinion; any doctor and most defiantly a specialist could view that video to make a diagnosis or treatment decisions based on it. Or at the very least have an idea as to what is going on. That is vitally important. It is also worth taking a look at some of the other images that Dan has captured to emphasize the point of what I am about to say.

In Australia we have isolated communities that are a long way from specialist medical care. Lots of families live on large properties in the middle of no-where. Say a child has an ear-ache. The family might make the trip into town to see the doctor, this might be an hour or two (maybe more). They tell the doctor about the ear ache and he or she takes a look but they are undecided as to what is the best treatment so a referral to a specialist in a major center is made. Now the health care system is paying for that family to fly to the closest ear nose and throat specialist, accommodation and the flight back. The specialist takes a look and decides on a treatment and maybe a return visit. Or maybe the trip was unnecessary all together and the treatment could have been prescribed and managed by the local doctor.

Now that very scenario utilizing new technology and services that the Internet provides is a totally different one. The family may still have to visit the doctor. But once there the doctor is not sure of the best treatment. The doctor then starts Skype and plugs in the Digital Pen Camera. Starts a call to the specialist at the major center, tells he or she what the symptom are or the family can talk to the specialist directly. The specialist obviously needs to take a look in the child’s ear, so the Digital Pen Camera is employed and using Skype’s webcam features gets a great look in the ear. No trip to the big smoke necessary, or the trip is not a wasted one when it is decided that they need to go to get the best treatment, possibly a procedure.

Alternatively, if the specialist is not available at the time then the video could be recorded and sent via email or placed on a server via ftp and viewed when convenient. There are a number of possibilities for sharing this information and getting the best treatment to the most remote places.

This set up requires no building of technology, no massive investment in infrastructure. Yet the health care system is hell bent on building hardware or buying it at great expense setting it up and maintaining it and then not even using it in the way that they should be. Medicine needs to start adopting what us geeks have been doing for years and incorporating it into their practice. In doing so the struggling health care system would be saving thousands and thousands of dollars. There are many other costs built into the above situation other than what I have mentioned, I just wanted to keep it simple, but they could all be mitigated or reduced by using existing technology for the benefit of patients. In addition the families that are totally inconvenienced by the whole system get faster better treatment without being temporarily relocated.

I am sure that the government is probably saying things like it is not secure and it is not done that way, I have heard all the rhetoric before. But Skype is encrypted and we need to rethink some things! Seriously, wake up to yourselves.

Skype Application = free

Skype to Skype call cost = free (bandwidth excluded – they are paying for that anyway)

Digital Pen Camera = $90 (AU and excluding GST)

Most of the medical equipment that I have seen that can produce the above video quality are worth 10’s of thousands and some 100’s where such magnification is required. The 99 dollars that this little camera is capable of costs nothing in comparison, especially considering that it could benefit more than just one patient. Therefore, based on that calculation the thousands of dollars that it would have cost for little Johnny to see the specialist would be ZERO. It does not take a genius to see what we could be doing for a very small cost.

I admit there are some things that need to be looked at in order to really apply this to patients. One thing that comes to mind is the attachments and having enough available for each patient or the training that might be required. But I don’t think these are major hurdles at all.

Te application for this small camera are numerous, wide and varied, not only in health. But I am convinced that the application of the hardware to health at such a small relative cost is exciting. This technology could benefit any number of patients in many different situations. If you are a health professional then you will know what I mean by that. The benefit to patients would be measurable and the benefit to the system and the limited resources also of great significance.

I really don’t know why this is not being done right now. I am at a loss as to how I can influence the decision makers in order to change the way that we do things, or even just to evaluate what we do. I want to make things better for patients and the system. Maybe then I can make a real difference.

The Digital Pen Camera is available to anyone that wants one (even the government):

They are available in Australia for $99 including GST from Aus PC Market.

I am sure that they would consider a bulk discount, anyone for a trial using this very cool piece of kit?

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