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Better living with technology

(ANDY RYAN)
By Karen Weintraub
Globe Correspondent / November 21, 2011
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WHO

Frank Moss

WHAT

Moss, head of the New Media Medicine group at the MIT Media Lab and author of ‘‘The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices,’’ about the lab, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times earlier this month about the role technology can play in the future of medicine.

Q. What is your vision for the future of medicine?

A. My vision begins with the fact that health care costs are such a major burden on us as individuals, our families, and our country. There’s tremendous opportunity to take advantage of dramatic advances that are happening right now in technology - all the way from social media and smartphones to personal genomics and nanotechnology - to create a consumer health revolution, to enable us to take control of our health, to cut down health care costs.

Q. Historically, hasn’t new innovation driven up the cost of health care rather than reduced it?

A. The kinds of technologies I’m talking about are very inexpensive and are really there to prevent development of disease. Digital technologies are by their very nature inexpensive. They tap into our own abilities as human beings to change our behavior and change our health.

Q. People don’t change health habits very easily, though.

A. Not everyone will take to these kinds of technologies, there will continue to be people who will continue to exercise bad habits and not take their medicine, but we can make a huge difference.

Q. How do you see this changing the relationships people have with their primary care doctor?

A. Today, you go to the doctor, you sit at one end of the room and the doctor’s on his or her computer. The vision that we have is you’ll be sitting in front of a big multitouch screen actually watching what’s going on in your body in a very intuitive, fun kind of animation. When you leave, the doctor will download prescriptions and treatments onto your cellphone - which not only remind you, but encourage you to follow the medicine’s or other lifestyle procedures. [You’ll see] a periodic video message from the doctor to encourage you if you’re doing well or maybe to encourage you if you’re not. It’ll be continuous care rather than the episodic, periodic care that occurs today.

Q. What does this do to the practice of primary care medicine, to the meaning of being a doctor?

A. Primary care doctors are going to become educators, collaborators with their patients - and spend more of their time educating them than simply prescribing to them. Today, doctors are being driven away from care. This will make it much more enjoyable.

Q. The insurance and health care systems are notoriously hard to reform. How do you think you’re going to succeed where so many others have failed?

A. I tell venture capitalists: When the revolution occurs, everything’s going to change and if you’re not with me, you’re going to regret it. My faith in the power of technology to create these revolutions and to change everything, tells me that now is the time to get into this area and develop new innovations. Practical and economic and financial problems that exist will change to accommodate this new model.

Q. Couldn’t some of this technology be used to violate our privacy, to police every bite that goes in our mouth or every drink or cigarette we sneak?

A. If it turns into another thing to make us miserable, that would not be a good thing. This is not about people nagging you or surveillance, this is about giving you control. In my vision of the world, there’s nothing you have to do. These are going to be technologies that make you want to do things and make your life better.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Karen Weintraub can be reached at Karen@KarenWeintraub.com.

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