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Today’s Medical Care: Like Star Trek’s Sickbay

Treating eye cancer with an invisible beam of protons: Star Trek or U.S. health care?

by
Clayton E. Cramer

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April 3, 2010 - 12:00 am
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When I was a child, I thought Star Trek’s Sickbay was a wonderful imagination of what medical care might be like … some day.  It was, however, clearly a very long ways off.  (When I say Star Trek, I mean the original series — and when I watched Star Trek, it was on NBC in the mid-1960s, not reruns.)

It seems like that “some day” has already arrived. Do you remember how Nurse Chapel carried around an electronic tablet on which she recorded information about patients? When I go into my doctor’s office, he enters my vital signs on a PDA — and my prescription goes straight from his PDA to the pharmacist across the street.

Do you remember how vital signs appeared above the patient in the Star Trek Sickbay — with no wires or connections?  We’re not quite there yet, but when my daughter was born in 1983, many of the vital signs for my wife, such as blood oxygen content, were obtained using non-intrusive devices.

How would you know, in 1966, if someone had colon cancer? Usually the first hint were ugly stool symptoms, but to find out for sure would involve exploratory surgery. But starting in 1969, the medical profession started to experiment with a new procedure, colonoscopy.  It is now so common that everyone over age 50 is strongly encouraged to have it done to make sure that there aren’t precancerous polyps. If there are growths, the doctor snips them out for biopsy in order to prevent them from turning into something more serious.

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