The UCSF Medical Center study, launched in March, aims to collect heart data from a million people worldwide over the next 10 years and to find trends that will lead to a better understanding of heart function and ways to predict disease. The Health eHeart program, as it is called, also is already helping people like Dohse manage their conditions. What's great about it, she says, is "having trend data to make good decisions" about what to eat and how hard to train.
In the no-so-distant future, experts say, these streams of patient data that allow a minute-by-minute picture of health status will regularly help with predictions, early interventions, diagnosis and treatment planning. Imagine that your doctor, instead of viewing you just as a snapshot, can watch a feature-length film of your vitals over weeks or months. "All of these devices are making it possible for us to collect information about people's behavior that we haven't been able to see before, to look at metrics that we may not have thought of before," says Satcher. Artificial intelligence programs will sift through the numbers and spot problems and suggest solutions faster, and potentially more effectively, than any single doctor could today.
Perhaps the most exotic application of telemedicine would be to perform a surgery remotely, a long-term goal of the MD Anderson effort. The technology exists: A surgeon using the da Vinci surgical robot today to perform minimally invasive operations sits at a console across the room from the patient, manipulating controls that move robotic arms and the surgical instruments. Other surgeons and nurses stand by at the table. Remote robotic surgery has even happened; in 2001, surgeons in New York removed the gall bladder of a woman in France (with the assistance of a team at the patient's bedside). But Matin suspects that commonplace remote surgery is a few years away, since the necessary high-speed communication lines still aren't reliable or cost-efficient enough. Moreover, there are legal barriers. It would be illegal for a surgeon licensed in Texas, for instance, to operate on someone in California. (There is legislation in Congress currently addressing this obstacle.)
Meanwhile, he's working on sharing MD Anderson's surgical expertise from afar. With the use of a specialized webcam, software and a microphone in the distant OR, an MD Anderson surgeon can sit in on a surgery in real-time from her office, reaching across the distance and into the future.