Archived Story

MRIs, X-rays should catch up with smart phone tech

Published 11:16am Friday, June 22, 2012

They say a typical new cell phone, an iPhone or Android, puts as much computing power in the palm of its owner’s hand as was available in the entire mission control center for the first Apollo launch.

Who knows if it’s true? But it’s certainly believable because there seems to be no limit to the stuff that once seemed impossible but is now utterly ordinary.

It was as recently as 1989 that my boss asked me to set up the first fax machine in the newspaper where I was working; as I plugged it into the specially installed phone jack, I looked up and found a circle of co-workers eagerly waiting to see the miracle in action.

Now the day of the fax has already ended.

Digital cameras? Beyond conception 30 years ago.

Satellite radio in the car? Beyond conception 30 years ago.

Wireless Internet? That didn’t even exist 30 years ago.

If those wonders hand’t snuck up on us gradually, we’d spend most of our time being amazed.

But in one area technology has disappointed: Medical imaging. Yes, I’m aware that there are many wonderful ways now for doctors (and the Transportation Security Administration) to see into our bodies. But where are the low-cost, handheld versions — the medical equivalent of the iPhone?

As I was out for a morning run along 16th Avenue SW last week, the twinge of pain I had been feeling in my ankle all week suddenly became a stab so severe that it left me kneeling on the sidewalk. I’ve been limping around ever since, listening to my family’s Chief Safety Officer lecture me about the need to “get it looked at.”

Like many middle-aged men, I do not like to have my parts looked at.

Like many aging sort-of-athletes, I learned long ago that if I go to the clinic with an injured ankle I am almost certainly going to be told that it’s a sprain. Prescription: rest, ice, compression, elevation and maybe an annoying inflatable sprint. No offense to doctors and their many years of training, but you don’t have to be a doctor to know that.

If technology was really keeping up, however, I could do my own handheld MRI or CAT scan or X-ray. Last winter, I let the CSO talk me into seeing my family doctor because she thought I might have broken my elbow. While getting an X-ray that showed nothing was wrong, I couldn’t help noticing that X-rays don’t require film developing anymore. Maybe they don’t even use radiation.

It was then that I realized owning a handheld medical scanner would save me many losing arguments about the need to “have it looked at.” I could check to see if there was something obviously disconnected in my ankle. If so, I could make an appointment to have the clearly serious problem corrected by a professional.

Otherwise, I’d know it was safe to stick with my usual program: pretending to rest until the CSO’s attention drifts to other health issues.

As an enthusiastic but clumsy and often-injured amateur athlete, I could see doing my own medical imaging a couple of times a year. Add in all the kids’ bicycle and falling-out-of-tree incidents plus the CSO’s own ski accidents and we’d probably be checking out someone’s bones at least once a month.

I’d pay at least iPhone prices — about $500 — for one of those imaging deals, whenever it gets invented. Heck, even at $1,000 I’d be making money given my insurance deductible. Probably have to sign about 150 waivers agreeing that I’d be responsible for my own mistakes if I misread something, but still …

Sure, all of this might seem like crazy talk. But so, once upon a time, did cell phones.


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