MMVR02/10 -- Digital Upgrades: Applying Moore's Law to Health

Rachel Prentice


March 27, 2002

In This Article

Holographic Medical Electronic Representation (Holomer)

Dr. Satava, who is known for futuristic thinking about computers and medicine, spoke about another very promising medical application, the Holomer, or holographic medical electronic representation. The Holomer begins with an ordinary-looking optical disk, which Dr. Satava pulled out of his jacket pocket for effect. The disk stores images of and information about his body. Although devices that can easily read data in this form are not yet available, Dr. Satava predicted that eventually every patient will have a disk that stores an entire medical record and a set of scans of the patient's body using every imaging modality available. The scans might be taken by a device that Dr. Satava calls a "doorway to the future," and would look like an airport security scanner, but would perform x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and yet-to-be discovered medical imaging instead of scanning for metal. Patients would undergo such scans at regular intervals to track changes over time.

Although the scans such as the ones stored on Dr. Satava's disk can be done now, he hopes that the patient's medical record -- and even vital signs -- eventually will be integrated into the Holomer, creating a visual record that patients and physicians can easily read. "It is more intuitive and natural to just look at the body and intervene in it directly," he said. "This image can in the future become a surrogate for an individual." With this virtual surrogate in hand, doctors could use a patient's body scan for surgical planning. With a Holomer, a surgeon could do surgical planning on the patient's virtual model, trying out various approaches and techniques before operating. Or the device could show the patient how physical changes over time might result from a particular behavior, such as smoking; these comparisons of scans might encourage patients to think about their behaviors. "It goes back to [the game of] Dungeons and Dragons," he said. "We learned there that people get very attached to their avatars." Patients also would own the data, so they could sell it to pharmaceutical companies and other groups for research databases. Dr. Satava predicted that this type of information resource would be of immense value to researchers.


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