Dr. William Heetderks is the Director of Extramural Science Programs at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NBIB), of the National Institutues of Health (USA). Here he shares with us, via IEEE.tv, the ways in which he sees technology improving the practice of medicine, now and in the future.
IEEEtv: What do you see as the greatest challenge to advancing the practice of medicine through technology?
Director of Extramural Science Programs
National Institute of Bioimaging and Bioengineering:
I see technology as providing the solution to do a number of things; to make information available to a much broader product community of experts so that if you’re in a rural setting, you’re not dependent on that physician, but there’s expert information available out there. If you need tests, ideally they would be available to you, and you would not necessarily need to go to the hospital to get a test. The technology ought to enable those tests to come to your drug store, or to your house, or where have you. So technology can really transform the way that healthcare is now delivered, and I see it as part of the solution – part of controlling the cost.
Why is it sometimes difficult for people to imagine the future benefits?
There are going to be things in the world didn’t exist before. Technologies that provide targeted drug delivery, those kinds of things, are in the works, but they are not out on the street yet, so it’s harder to point to areas where we’ve had a big impact. If you talk about things like electronic health records, there I think it really is an image problem. I think that electronic health records have the potential to significantly change the way healthcare is delivered and really improve the quality of care, reduce the number of errors that are made. But figuring out exactly how to do that right is not a trivial problem. So I’m looking toward the future, I guess.
What possibilities excite you – that really change the way we approach health care?
What I think technology has really the potential to do is to put the patient at the center of the patient’s health care. And if you’ve been to multiple doctors, each one has their own record, and I will guarantee that the records from your dentist have never made it to the records of your dermatologist, and they have never made it the records of your internist. And then hospitals have their own records. All of this ought to be your record. It ought to be a part of you. It ought to be yours personally to own so that you have control of it; and you can have control over who you give it to. So I’m not saying it’s something out there for everyone. But it is something that travels with you, so that if you go to the dermatologist, you give him your record and it has the dermatology stuff, but it also has everything else that you want to share with him. And that kind of personalized care then also will lend itself to new ways of treatment so that you could potentially get treatments at a drug store, or you could have people coming to your house, there can be self-diagnostic kinds of procedures, self-immunization, all sorts of things like that.
How does this tie in to the work that you do?
The work that I do, basically, is providing support for research around the country. The kinds of technology that are being developed are going to enable point of care technologies so that when you go to a physician you don’t have to get sent away for lab work. The lab work gets done; ideally, you get the answer there at the visit. So these kinds of technologies will build into the kind of thing that I am describing. You can’t do what I’m describing with the technology that exists today in health care, but I think we will be able to, with the kinds of tools that we will have the next generation.
What is happening now that is driving that generational change?
I feel like this is a time of a particular shift in two spaces. Both in the space of biological sciences, and the contribution that physical sciences are going to make to biological sciences. But also to the whole organization of health care and health care delivery and the impact that, in this case, more engineering is going to have on, if you will, “engineering medicine” as opposed to the way that it has sort of organically grown up to this point.
Dr. William J. Heetderks is the Director of Extramural Science Programs at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), NIH. The extramural program supports approximately 800 research and training grants at universities and research centers throughout the United States in fields of bioengineering and biomedical imaging. Dr. Heetderks received the Ph.D. degree in Bioengineering from The University of Michigan. He received the MD degree from the University of Miami and is certified in Internal Medicine. Before joining NIBIB he was at the National institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke where he directed the neural prosthesis program. Read more