AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog

Giant Steps

This is a photo of the first MRI scanner in the world. It is presently on display as an artifact at the London Science Museum in the Wellcome History of Medicine exhibit, but the scanner only dates back to 1971. The first images it produced were extremely coarse and only showed rough shadows of what the brain really looked like. It is incredible to think that just 40 years later, we are able to see the brain and other organs as substantially clearer three-dimensional images. With the immensely improved technology, we can even see the circulation of blood in the brain and its metabolic activity as it is being used. There are other fascinating exhibits at the museum, including devices used in attempts to ameliorate the human condition dating from long before the MRI scanner came about.

Besides the usual trephining tools used to burr holes in the skull and buckets to catch the blood from ‘therapeutic’ lobotomies, there is this; an early 19th century EMG machine used to measure nerve conductions in diagnosis of peripheral nervous system disorders:

It seems that one would place a limb at the bottom of this arc and the weights would be dropped onto them, causing a reflex which was recorded by the machine. The time and distance of the nerve impulse was measured giving the speed at which the impulse moved down a nerve.  It sounds painful, but compared to the advances of the MRI scan, the nerve conduction studies we do today are relatively similar to what this machine did.

With the advent of the Internet and the rise of telemedicine, our skills as physicians are undergoing another paradigm shift. The magnitude of the change brought on by telemedicine technologies is closer to that of the leaps made by the MRI scan than those of the EMG. For the first time, physicians can see patients in real-time from hundreds of miles away, markedly increasing the efficiency and productivity of our field. Perhaps one day, this same exhibit will include one of our current devices, denoted as an “early robot,” and serve as a curiosity to the lines of people that pass by. Whatever the result, we will probably always look back on the strides we are making today and the people behind them as the next great pioneers in the history of medicine.

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