Tuesday, December 14, 2010

be your own doctor?

this post is shot from the hip...i'm basically making it up as a i go along, but there can be value in that (for me, anyway; for you guys? we'll see)

When we go to the doctor for a check-up (a so-called "well" visit) and when we go to complain of some ailment, generally the first care we get is from a nurse or CNA who weighs us, takes our temp, measures our blood pressure.  When the doc comes in, she may ask a few questions but will generally also be looking at a couple of things: color of the "whites" of our eyes, color and condition of our throats, maybe a quick peak in our ears.

I'm no doctor; I have no medical training beyond lifeguard CPR.  But I am educated, and inquisitive, and have access to the internet, and I'm just skeptical enough of the medical technocracy to think a little about self-diagnosis and treatment.
How much of what we get at the doctor could we get at home?  I have a scale, I have a thermometer, and I have a blood pressure machine.  I have a concerned and observant spouse that can look at me critically a few times a week (I guess I'm talking about a different kind of "critical" here - the other kind of critical looks I can get multiple times a day).

I went through a period of weighing myself every day, and taking my blood pressure every day, and taking my temperature when I thought of it.  I charted all of this data, looking for trends or baselines.  And now that someone in my little family is monitoring blood sugar levels all day, I'm thinking again about charting my daily data and wondering what other bits of data are possible to collect.

Apparently the Japanese are ahead of us in this regard (when did you first read about high tech Japanese toilets?  This seems like a regular "slow news day" entry for tech writers).  From MSNBC:

Already, smart toilets in Japan can perform urinalysis — testing for diabetes, for instance — thenwirelessly transmit the findings to either a home computer or health care provider. In the future, Campos says toilets in the U.S. will be able to act as both an early warning system for disease and provide the user with insights into their day-to-day health.

So I'm thinking of getting a blood sugar test kit for myself and adding that to the daily data collection regimen.  What else could be available for home testing, especially things that aren't that expensive?  What about a test for cancer markers?  What about a "viral count" indicator?  Or a way to check for tipping point amounts of a given bacteria?

To bring this back around, it seems to me that we often go to the doctor to get a "yes" or "no" as to a specific malady, so that we can treat the correct problem.  Scratchy throats might be viral or bacterial; the one gets you an antibiotic and the other a prescription for sleep and chicken soup...would we not collectively be better off with a simple, at home "strep" test?

I recognize that this post has taken to rambling, so I'll wrap it up for now with this parting thought: the data that the doc collects in-office is at a "point in time" but the real value in a lot of this data is in the trends and the point vs the baseline.  My wife's temperature is routinely below 98.6, so for us a 99 degree reading might be a little more alarming than for someone else; might there not also be similar patterns for other body readings?  You know, because No Two Patients Are the Same?


  1. I recently thought about this when I was up with a crying baby AGAIN wondering if it was an ear infection (which daughter #2 is prone to). Instead of rushing to the doctor or (god forbid) urgent care facility every time the kids has a cold and is cranky, why don't we just get ourselves an otoscope (sp?) and learn what an infected ear looks like? I'm not saying I need to be writing prescriptions, but if I could take a look and see a healthy ear, I could save ourselves a trip to the dr, or a night of worrying if I'm letting my baby cry it out even though she's in horrible pain?

  2. this is a great example, Jessica. What does it cost for an office visit with your pediatrician? And what about the related costs (taking your healthy kids with you to a waiting room full of sickies, taking time off work, etc etc).

    Otoscope on Amazon: $26
    Then I did a Google image search for "diagnose ear infection" and a general Google search for the same...after reading a few posts it sounds like you look in the ear for signs of inflammation. Boom.

    Of course, you may miss some signs that a doctor might not miss. And if turns out that there is an infection, you still have to go get the 'scrip...


  3. Done. I'm getting myself an otoscope. And you will be named in my law suit if anything should go awry. :)