When you are on the wrong side of age 50, as I am, bad stuff begins to happen. Over the last few years, I have had to deal with three age-related maladies, one not-so serious, one somewhat serious, and one very serious. Fortunately, I live in the Chicago area, where I have at my disposal an amazing array of healthcare facilities and medical specialists. Others aren’t so fortunate. That is why Mary Rose Roberts’ cover story in this issue, which reports on some of the advances that have been made in the field of telemedicine as a result of the federal broadband stimulus grant program, made me smile.

Telemedicine is nothing new — I wrote about it nearly a decade ago when I was a senior writer for Telephony magazine. A child had been born with pulmonary stenosis, which means that a heart valve wasn’t working properly and not enough oxygen was getting into his blood. If the condition had gone undiagnosed, the child may have lapsed into a coma or suffered cardiac arrest.

Fortunately, because the child’s doctors could consult with neonatal cardiology specialists at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital via a videoconference hookup in the hospital’s telecardiology unit, his life was spared. Now, with significant advances in telemedicine and broadband technology since then, more people of all ages are getting the specialized care that will give them a better chance of surviving their medical crises.

Clearly, medicine and broadband communications — wired or wireless — are intrinsically linked, and this marriage will spawn future advances that truly will be as mind-boggling as they are life-changing. Last November, Marty Cooper, the father of the cellular phone, predicted that within the next two decades, a wearable patch will be developed to monitor a plethora of health indicators. Within three decades, the device will be embedded into the user. It will transmit the data wirelessly to a computer that will make sense of it all, based in large measure on the individual’s genetic makeup and health history. When warranted, the system will alert the individual of a problem, Cooper said.

Should this occur — and who doubts that it’s possible? — it will lead to a seismic shift in medical practices, because the focus would shift from curing disease to preventing it, Cooper said.

“The system will know all of your medical history and will be monitoring you continuously,” Cooper said. “For instance, if you’re about to have congestive heart failure — which is the biggest cause of heart attacks today — it will let you know eight to 10 hours ahead of time, which will give you an opportunity to take a pill and avoid a trip to the hospital.”

If Hippocrates were still around and could read this column, I think it would make him smile. Don’t you?

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