The Future of Medical Technology


In the future, a visit to your family physician, or any specialist, will begin with a quick scan of the computer screen, where a few keystrokes will tell the doctor everything he or she needs to know about you – all the way from how much you weighed at birth, to X-rays of that bone you broke when you flipped your motorcycle thirty years ago, to how much you spent on blood work last year, right up to the hypertension pills you took after dinner yesterday (and maybe even what you ate, although hopefully not).

Much of your medical info is already stored electronically, of course, but much more is stuffed into old paper file folders. Nor is there any centralized database that routes your records wherever they are wanted. That is going to change, and change dramatically.

The present system has too many embedded inefficiencies, and the industry wants them gone with yesterday’s used latex gloves. Whether you like it or not, someday soon there will be a collection of bits and bytes that stores all the most intimate details of your health history.

Making that happen is a daunting job, and a touchy one.

On the one hand, think of how much medical data each American accumulates each year. Multiply that by 300 million. The amount of paper currently required to track it all would stretch to the moon. Doctors want to set fire to that stack.

But on the other hand, they don’t want their patients’ records falling into the hands of every Eastern European hacker for whom such data would be a major arm shot to his fake Viagra business. Data security has to be tight.

Thus software solutions must be developed both to serve and to protect. Billions will be spent in the process of digitizing, maintaining, and guarding medical records, and guess whose pocket the money will be extracted from. Did you select mine?

Don’t care for this idea of white jackets anywhere in the world having access to your private info at the click of a mouse? Or don’t like the idea of footing the bill for the conversion? Well, tough. On both counts. You won’t be able to prevent the medical business from setting up the grand database, nor from using your own money to manufacture the electronic you.

In fact, the government has already installed the plumbing that will feed the big money shower. As in, very big.

That happened on February 17, when President Obama signed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), which its sponsors had tacked onto the comprehensive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Everyone loves ARRA, right? Well, maybe. But citizens who cheered it might not have been quite so happy if they were aware of everything they were agreeing to fund with their hard-earned dollars. Buried inside HITECH is an allotment of $19 billion (yep, that’s billion with a B) just for the conversion of paper medical records into electronic.

Tell you who was cheering lustily, for certain: health care software developers. For example, maybe you read about the recent deal whereby Dell acquired Perot Systems, a premium software company, for about $4 billion. What that was largely about was HITECH. Dell didn’t have real access to it. Perot Systems – whose annual revenues derive 25% from government and 48% from health care – did. Sound the wedding bells.

Dell, of course, is by no means the only company eager to step into the generous governmental shower stall. You can bet that IBM, Hewlett- Packard, and the rest of the heavies in the field are all busily preparing proposals, if they haven’t already filed them.

And the big guys won’t have that field all to themselves. There’s a lot of cash to be spread around. Smaller competitors will nab their share.

Those are the kinds of companies Casey’s Extraordinary Technology searches for and recommends as longer-term investments. The ones whose bottom lines will profit the most from political largesse.

Subscribers learned about one such firm in the September issue. There will be others, as anyone who has both a solid product and the savvy to play Washington’s money game, is going to prosper mightily in the years ahead.


Doug Hornig
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

Doug Hornig
Doug Hornig is a senior editor for Casey Research, publishers of Doug Casey's International Speculator... for over 27 years providing investors with unbiased and carefully researched recommendations for high-quality gold and other natural resource stocks with the very real opportunity for a 100% or better gain within a 12-month horizon. Hornig also writes the Daily Resource, a daily column that appears on the KitcoCasey and Casey Research web sites.
Doug Hornig

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  1. And so what is this hyper modern know it all medico system actually going to do for the health of the average man or woman? Squat Diddly is what.
    Literally for years we’ve been dazzled by gee whiz “advances” in medical science that have done precisely nothing to improve the health of the average man and woman.

    It is a fact that cancer rates for almost all cancers inexorably rises, both for men and woman and for all ages, rates for a host of other degenerative diseases such as heart disease, parkinsons disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, arthritis to name but a few are also heading north.

    The fact is that no development in medical science or of the multitude of pharmacological onslaughts has had any positive effect on disease and death rates.

    All this will do is add yet more to the sky-rocketing cost of conventional medicines.

    The money would have been better spent educating at least some of the population that natural methods of prevention are the only way to avoid a host of degenerative diseases.

    When will we ever learn?

  2. In any country, the stumbling blocks for medical databases are privacy (from insurance companies) and citizen rights. To avoid fickle, politically driven legislative changes the associated protections need to be embedded in national constitutions (which are hard to change).

    With any aging population, costs can only be contained by:

    1. empowering allied health professionals to what they have been trained to do (the doctors union and the dentists union can get stuffed!)

    2. greatly reducing medical malpractice liability (with provision for consumers to purchase their own insurance if they so wish); and

    3. placing a much greater emphasis on preventative population health and reduced medication/ preventative medicine regimes (this means exercise!).

    We are in no position to just place more reliance on new magic pills and technology (however good they may be).

    As in financial matters people need to take basic responsibility for themselves. In Australia, I am for example, fed up listening to people who won’t or can’t brush & floss their teeth properly THEN complain about the public dental waiting list. For God’s sake they should do a bit of exercise each morning and buy a new tooth brush (but they won’t).

    We should also allow nurse partitioners deal with the very large number of people (with minor complaints) who now fill hospital casualty areas. And expensive to run hospital beds could be reduced if greater reliance were to be placed on respite// recovery beds and home based care.

    sorry to go on.


    Coffee Addict
    November 10, 2009
  3. Electronic medical record keeping systems will only work up to a point. Doctors will not condemn themselves on electronic records if it can possibly be avoided, and with time medical records have become less honest, less frank, less self-incriminating and less useful. Most of the advantages from these records are chasing results of tests, electronic drug charts and writing letters of referral. This is easy, but actually the least informative, because people still have to make their own physical assessment – numbers are rubbish without context. And asking a doctor to effectively publish his personal thoughts about a patient (hunches, suspicions, differential diagnoses) is just not going to work – all you will get is fluff. If you don’t give privilege to medical communications (by for example nationalizing the information) then you will get polite public chatter – the standard of care might well drop.

    The more you force people to type and click, the less they will spend facing a patient, or just getting on with a job in a timely manner – the people who design these things are too greedy for detail and do not have patient welfare in mind. Yet it will only work once it is faster and more reliable than writing on a piece of paper – it won’t happen because in most cases it’s done by people with no clue.

    These are all important considerations in choosing who to invest your money in when it comes to health informatics service providers. Not easy to assess – mostly there are just clusters of incompetent and overpriced companies. I would say that a successful nationalized medical information system is a long way off. There are many failures still to come.

  4. My GP looks at his computer screen but not at me. He is besotted by tests especially blood tests ( there is an obliging path lab in the building) but has never examined me or taken a history. Is he unusual – from my and my wife’s experience – no he is usual.
    The population’s control of hypertension , obesity, pain , sleep deprivation, depression etc is very indifferent
    But the GPs are (must be ) good at passing exams.


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