Natasha Loder in 1843:
Humans have always dreamed of better, fitter, longer-lasting bodies. But while many science-fiction fantasies, from videophones to self-driving cars, have been realised, health technology has lagged behind our hopes. Artificial organs and smart pills have been a long time coming. There are a number of reasons for this. Biology is an order of magnitude more complicated than other forms of engineering. And it is hard to innovate in health, as there are many rules to protect us from products that might otherwise kill us. The pill or device that promises a longer life needs to prove that it actually works before it can be sold. The price of patient safety is sluggish innovation. Yet, despite these obstacles, there are signs that a digital revolution in health care is imminent. It will be more personalised, and potentially more useful, than anything the world has seen before. It promises to help us manage our health and inform us about the risks ahead.
…Britain’s Babylon Health, based in Kensington in London, is particularly ambitious. At its offices, fake greenery and flowering plants proliferate in a largely unsuccessful attempt to evoke the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Its app answers medical queries, provides access to doctors and offers users a dashboard of their health stats drawn from the phone or supplemental devices. These data can be supplemented with results from at-home blood-testing kits that one can order via the app. These take readings of liver and kidney function, vitamin levels, bone density and cholesterol. I tried the thyroid test and drew blood with a special device that punches a tiny hole with surprisingly little pain. Then I posted the sample to Babylon. The results (all OK) popped up in the app a day later. If Babylon recommends an appointment with a doctor, it can provide one via video-conferencing almost immediately for £25 ($32). As with many other doctor-on-demand services, it is possible to share notes, or even a video from a consultation, with your regular doctor.
One of the most exciting aspects of digital health is the capacity of mobile phones to gather information as well as deliver it. They can collect data from their own sensors and screens, as well as associated devices such as watches, headbands and the growing constellation of add-ons. Increasingly, such devices are clinically validated and medically useful.