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How Technology is Transforming Health Care

Categories: Executive Health
We are living longer than ever. Mortality risk in America has decreased by over 50 percent since 1935 1and much of this can be attributed to advances in medical technology. Just during my medical career, technology has changed and become more “individualized” for the patient, rather than one size fits all.

In a world where everyone – a recent college graduate, worried stay-at-home parent, high-powered executive or aging worker – can access medical information online, it is important to establish a relationship with a doctor. Searching for symptoms or information about a medical condition online will yield the same information for the above four people. Would a doctor diagnose and recommend the same treatment for these disparate demographics? Probably not.

Engaging in your own health maintenance along with your doctor is important to avoid misdiagnosing yourself via a website. It is also helpful to understand the technology available to your doctor for identifying possible medical conditions. Using precision diagnostic tools allow doctors to evaluate exactly what changes need to be made to your lifestyle or what medical procedure is required to ensure a long and fulfilling life.

Technology has enabled many diagnostic advances in the past 50 years. When Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-rays could show where bones were broken, it changed the face of the medical profession 2. With the advent of computed axial tomography (CAT scans) in the 1970s, doctors can now accurately diagnose patients suffering from colon cancer and pinpoint trouble spots in the body with three-dimensional imaging. Many medical professionals now use electronic records to track a patient’s progress and patient portals are becoming commonplace, allowing you to access your test results and view notes from anywhere at any time. Tracking information digitally, rather than via a thick stack of paper, saves the medical industry $290 billion in preventable costs 3. There has even been a push toward mobile technology in and out of the doctor’s office. In fact, four out of five doctors report using mobile devices in their medical offices 4.

One of the best recent examples of a precision tool is the vertical auto profile (VAP) cholesterol test. It is accepted that high cholesterol can lead to other health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. A traditional cholesterol test evaluates “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels. Based on this information, your physician will recommend eating healthier, cutting down on saturated fat, trans fat and sugar, while boosting your fruit and vegetable intake and making an effort to exercise regularly.

The VAP test, on the other hand, provides information on each type of cholesterol. This test reports particle sizes of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and subclasses of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) in your blood stream. Physicians can determine whether there is a greater risk for the development of heart disease based on LDL particle sizes, while certain subclasses of HDL cholesterol help protect your heart against heart disease. The VAP test also provides data about specific lipid levels. Doctors can use this additional information to provide you with details about your risk of developing heart disease, whereas the traditional test can only suggest your risks in broad terms .

Although we are better able to diagnose and treat patients, in the past 75 years heart disease and cancer remain the number one and two causes of death in this country. With our ever-progressing diagnostic and medical tools, however, your physician can arm your immune system against possible attacks while guiding you toward healthier habits. Like most industries, the medical field is continually evolving with the progress of technology. As we continue to move forward and use these discoveries in practice, it is important to build a relationship with your doctor when possible and educate yourself about all the tools and tests available to you both.

Written by Jim Lindberg, M.D., Hoag Executive Health Chief of Service
[1] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db88.htm
[2] http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1901/rontgen-bio.html
[3] http://www.poweryourpractice.com/3-unexpected-ways-technology-is-improving-health-care/
[4] IBID