If you watched Star Trek back in the late 1960s, or if you caught up with any of the franchise’s TV and film versions since then, you’re probably familiar with the tricorder, the hand-held device that can scan a patient’s body and diagnose their problem in seconds. Now, doctors and scientists are trying to make it a reality.
The Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE promises $10 million for the best small, portable device that can measure things like blood pressure, breathing rate and temperature. The winner will have to be able to diagnose 15 different diseases without any help from a human medical professional.
Wired Magazine has a fascinating story about the concept. It won’t surprise any of us in science- and medicine-savvy Massachusetts to learn that one of the contenders for the prize works just north of the South Shore in Cambridge. Eugene Chan came up with the Universal Blood Sensor, which can collect and analyze blood not in a lab but in a cell phone-size device.
Speaking of cell phones, it’s already possible to buy a smartphone with built-in sensors capable of measuring body temperature, blood glucose, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation and body fat percentage, as well as acting as an electrocardiogram and checking heart rate variability, which can indicate stress levels.
Does all this mean the days of regular doctor’s visits are numbered? Probably not. But it does mean that, particularly for people with conditions like diabetes that require frequent monitoring, some routine tasks can take place at home. Instead of spending half an hour in the car and then sitting in a waiting room, a home health care worker or family member, or even patients themselves, could hit a few buttons on their phone and get immediate feedback. Some phone apps can be connected to the doctor’s office and fed instantly into the patient’s medical record.
So, whether you’re a fan of Star Trek or just someone with better things to do than make routine visits to the doctor, it’s gratifying to know that the future is just about here.