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The “Pocket Doctor” Reality: Imagining the Future of Healthcare

19 juin 2012

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Lots of people talk about the future, but what does it truly look like for the average person? One person with a completely clear vision is Peter Diamandis, doctor, entrepreneur, and founder of the X PRIZE Foundation. One area in particular that Diamandis believes is ripe for reinvention is healthcare.

Working with the Qualcomm Foundation, Diamandis wants to challenge people to create a real-life Star Trek Tricorder mobile sensor with which he hopes to launch an entirely new approach to healthcare-- ultimately fixing what he calls a “broken” system. But will it work? Will we one day trade in our family doctors for mobile phones? We sat down with Diamandis to get his perspective on healthcare of the future.

QUALCOMM SPARK: One of the ways you’re hoping to completely disrupt and the healthcare industry is by launching the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE. Why focus on the healthcare industry in particular?

DIAMANDIS: Healthcare is ripe for massive disruption. The way we practice it today is very inefficient and it’s not as sufficiently distributed or democratized as it could be.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Can you describe this “democratization” of healthcare idea?

DIAMANDIS: We’re entering a day and age where the average individual should be able to access the best healthcare on the planet independent of their wealth and geography. The combination of the Tricorder: AI, cloud computing, digital imaging, lab on a chip, etc. can effectively [do this] for a fraction of the cost of what it’s rapidly approaching.

For example, a Maasai warrior in the middle of Kenya has better mobile communications than President Reagan did 25 years ago, and if they’re on a smartphone, better access to information than President Clinton did 15 years ago. The trend towards human empowerment that started in communications and information is going to move into healthcare and education, which are both areas I’m focused on for the X PRIZE.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Will this access to information through mobile help make “self-help” or “individualized medicine” the future of healthcare?

DIAMANDIS: The future of healthcare is allowing the consumer to become the CEO of their own health-- where there are no more excuses like “My doctor didn’t tell me this or I didn’t know that.” Ultimately, it’s about a future in which what’s going on in your body is constantly being monitored and analyzed, and the results are provided to you so you can make intelligent decisions, or [if you prefer, so you can] attempt more death defying activities.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Are people smart enough to be the “CEO of their own health?”

DIAMANDIS: No. Not yet. But that’s where technology comes in. We’ve evolved from a society where people knew how to do everything they needed to do in their life. They knew how to kill animals, plant foods, fetch water, etc. Now, we utilize a layer of technology that delivers our desires to us… like learning how to fly a plane or take digital images, etc. That’s part of the modern world.

QUALCOMM SPARK: So what’s the role of doctors in the future?

DIAMANDIS: Having spent four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars getting my medial degree – it’s a question that I think about a lot.

First of all, one of the important things to realize is that we can’t educate enough doctors to meet the U.S. needs, let alone the global need. So thinking that we’re taking jobs away from doctors is a fallacy.

Secondly, even the most brilliant human doctor cannot deal with the information flow that is being generated in our digital healthcare world. I think we are going to need artificial intelligence and Tricorders to assist physicians in the final result.

So the role of the doctor in the interim is to be used where he or she is more effective than technology. In the short term that’s going to be helping to understand people’s challenges and issues in human-to-human interactions--intuition. There’s a [limited] period of time where humans have better intuitive sense [than technology]. But ultimately, I think that intuition will be outdone by more efficient data crunching.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Could a device like the Tricorder or other forms of AI truly be smarter and more intuitive than a doctor?

DIAMANDIS: Intuition is no different than expertize in any subject. There’s the old saying to become an expert in anything – juggling, magician, unicycling, it’s all about practice, practice, practice to perfect the neuronal network structure. Intuition is being expert and being able to assess data more effectively or more proportionally than someone else does.

QUALCOMM SPARK: In one of your TedMed talks you mentioned a natural language app – why does medicine need language as opposed to just code and numbers?

DIAMANDIS: One of the most extraordinary things about the Watson success was its ability to understand the nuance of human language on Jeopardy-- how a person expresses himself varies so dramatically from country to country, region to region, language to language. One of the things that makes a physician a physician is the ability to understand the nuance of what people are saying and dive deeper. It’s one thing to do a lab analysis, it’s another thing to be able to add that layer on – that’s going to come from AI.

QUALCOMM SPARK: For healthcare in particular, why does it seem like the people who have the ideas that will really disrupt the industry are people from outside of it. Why is this?

DIAMANDIS: Because people are necessarily to some degree risk adverse, some degree lazy, even those with best intentions will take as much money, budget, and time to accomplish it because they don’t want to fail. And people who are experts in a field are incentivized by human nature not to massively disrupt that field. You’re going to have a tendency to not aggressively support those things that can relegate you to the history pages.

QUALCOMM SPARK: There are around 192 teams in the competition. What happens to the teams that don’t win the $10 million?

DIAMANDIS: In the case of the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE, we’ll have up to three teams that win and we’ll have a multitude of teams that don’t win but will continue on. Our goal is to give birth to an industry. That means hopefully dozens of teams are looking at different technologies – we’ll see teams sharing collaboration. Those people who enter the game to compete quickly look at the problem and say “we can’t do this the way we’ve always done it, we have to come up with something totally new.” It forces them to innovate. 




This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author's own

(STAR TREK, TRICORDER and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. Used under license.)

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ORB, by mPowering, celebrates one year of empowering frontline health workers with access to educational resources

Guest blogger Lesley-Anne Long is Global Director of mPowering Frontline Health Workers. She provides strategic leadership to mPowering and coordinates across mHealth, maternal and child health advisors, program implementers, government officials, private sector, NGOs and others focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Qualcomm.


Recently, a reception was held in Washington D.C. to commemorate the one-year anniversary of ORB, an mHealth content platform created by mPowering for frontline health workers.

Angela Baker, Director of Qualcomm Wireless Reach, welcomed an audience of attendees from U.S. government and international agencies, non-profits, social enterprises, and academics.

As the Global Health Director of mPowering Frontline Health Workers, I am proud of how far we have come in just one year.

mPowering, a partnership of private sector, government, donors, and program implementers  created ORB to help governments, training institutions, NGOs and health workers access high quality training resources quickly, wherever they are in the world. As a core part of mPowering’s new comprehensive training approach, ORB’s content is helping health workers gain critical knowledge and skills to improve the quality of care they provide to their communities. 

Partnering with mPowering frontline health workers

At the reception, Baker talked about Wireless Reach’s goal to create sustainable, advanced wireless programs that strengthen economic and social development across multiple sectors. She described the importance of strategic and effective collaborations such as the one Wireless Reach has with mPowering.

As a founding member of mPowering, Wireless Reach has contributed to mPowering’s goal of ending preventable maternal and child deaths by harnessing the power of mobile technologies. As ORB celebrated its first birthday, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health and the Child & Maternal Survival Coordinator at the Bureau of Global Health at USAID, reminded us of the potential that frontline health workers have to save lives. Pablos-Mendez emphasized the critical importance of quality training, support and mentorship for health workers, and commended the mPowering partnership for its work in creating ORB as an accessible library for frontline health workers everywhere.

At the event, one of mPowering’s partners, Global Health Media Project shared a story about a new mother in Pakistan. A health worker showed the mother a video from ORB about danger signs in newborns. This enabled the mother to recognize similar signs in her own baby a few days later and bring her to a health worker in time for life-saving treatment.

We also heard from Instrat Global Health Solutions about how the maternal health training program created by mPowering and partners (Medical Aid Films and Digital Campus) for frontline health workers in Ondo State, Nigeria, has been enthusiastically received by the Ministry of Health, with plans to scale the program up to 540 health facilities over the coming year.

What’s next for ORB?

Over the last 12 months, ORB has grown. The platform now hosts more than 300 resources, some in multiple languages, covering critical maternal, newborn and child health topics. mPowering and its partners will continue to grow this library, as well as add content in new topic areas such as Zika, water and sanitation, and mental health and well-being.

Increasingly, mPowering is working with governments and international partners to use ORB and other mobile technologies to deliver a more holistic and scalable approach to frontline health worker training.

The collaboration with Wireless Reach affords mPowering the opportunity to demonstrate how mobile health technologies can, ultimately be a force for social good at scale. ORB is an incredibly effective channel for disseminating critical health knowledge at scale, and a powerful tool for achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

We see ORB as a vital innovation, not just for community health workers to reduce the number of maternal and child deaths, but also to improve people’s lives globally. Working with Wireless Reach, we believe we can extend ORB’s reach to support hundreds of thousands of frontline health workers across the world.

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