Will The Medical Tricorder From Star Trek Become Real? – The Medical Futurist


The medical tricorder from Star Trek is in
many ways the ultimate sci-fi fantasy of general practitioners. An all-in-one solution to analyze diseases
instantly. So let’s take a look at whether it’s ever
going to become a reality. The tricorder is the ultimate digital health
tool. It’s a scanner, an analyzer, basically a
Swiss Army knife for physicians. It was an extremely futuristic idea at its
time, and it still is. But in many ways, we are inching closer to
making it a reality. A working tricorder could bring on a new era
in medicine. Instead of expensive machines and long waiting
times, information would be available immediately. Physicians could scan patients and receive
a list of diagnostic options and suggestions. Imagine the influence it could have on underdeveloped
regions. It would make the biggest promise of digital
health real: making patients the point-of-care. And just because it’s coming from the realms
of sci-fi, it doesn’t mean it has to stay there forever. I remember a student of mine, who thought
it was a bit far-fetched for something out of a sci-fi show to become reality. I gave him a list to consider. A visual display device from Star Trek is
Google Glass now. The heads-up display in Minority Report is
air touch technology. And Iron Man is currently being developed
by DARPA. More often than not, sci-fi is a lot more
than just fantasy – it shows the way forward. And technologically, the tricorder is absolutely
viable. In 2014, the Tricorder XPRIZE contest offered
10 million dollars for a device capable of accurately diagnosing a set of 13 medical
conditions, and continuously measure 5 vital signs. In the end, even though no team met all the
requirements, two finalists came up with a tricorder-like device. So how close are we? We already have portable diagnostic devices,
and we are slowly inching toward more compact digital health tools. But we should also be rational here and expect
to see devices that can assess a basic list of vital signs instead of giving a diagnosis. Because, developing devices to include diagnostic
options, biomarkers and lab tests is the tricky part. We’ve seen big companies with big promises
crash and burn on that field, just remember the Theranos scam. So the idea of one technology solving all
the challenges we face in healthcare is not just far-fetched but might not work at all. But a big part of practicing medicine is to
obtain vital signs. And even if it’s not gonna be the all-in-one
solution that Dr. Mccoy uses, simpler versions of his medical tricorder has already found
their way to become a reality.

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