Health, Medicine, Biotech
In the health care debate, a major complaint is the cost of drugs in the USA compared to other countries. This is normally blamed on the pharma companies or patents, but I've learned that the pharmacies can be a giant part.
I've been mulling a bit over the philosophy of law, and one concept I have been exploring is that a key to understanding a major class of immoral acts is to look at attempts to exploit flaws in human cognition and physiology. There's been a reasonable amount of scientific study of the "bugs" in the way humans think by economists, game theorists and psychologists, and while some of the bugs are debatable, some are fairly undisputed. This might help build moral codes.
The pharma industry is littered with cases of drugs that showed good promise, but proved to be too dangerous when they got into human trials. Dangerous side effects will cancel development for most drugs. In some cases, such as Vioxx and Fen-Phen the dangerous effects were discovered later, and the drugs pulled from the market.
I have written a few times before about versed, the memory drug and the ethical and metaphysical questions that surround it. I was pointed today to a story from Time about propofol, which like the Men in Black neuralizer pen, can erase the last few minutes of your memory from before you are injected with it. This is different from Versed, which stops you from recording memories after you take it.
Those who know about my phone startup Voxable will know I have far more ambitious goals regarding presence and telephony, but during my recent hospital stay, I thought of a simple subset idea that could make hospital phone systems much better for the patient, namely a way to easily specifiy whether it's a good time to call the patient or not. Something as simple as a toggle switch on the phone, or with standard phones, a couple of magic extensions they can dial to set whether it's good or not.
Today many services offer MRI scans for a fee. DNA testing services are getting better and better -- soon they will be able to predict how likely it is you will get all sorts of diseases. Many worry that this will alter the landscape of insurance, either because insurance companies will demand testing, or demand you tell them what you learn from testing.
I'll admit that female endocrinology is not something I know a great deal about, but I do know that most of the birth control pills today follow a general strategy of fooling the body into thinking it is pregnant. This stops ovulation and implantation.
Today there's more evidence we should be taking more and more supplements, but they often come in giant pills that are uncomfortable to take. At the same time, easy to take chewable vitamin pills are also on the market.
So I propose: Divide up all the vitamins and minerals and supplements wanted in a daily regimen. Make a chewable pill that contains all the ones that can go in a chewable pill (ie. don't taste bad, and will maintain proper cohesion.) Then take the ones that can't go in that chewable, and bundle just them in a hopefully smaller, coated pill to swallow.
When our society got rich, we started living much more sterile lives, and a whole bunch of diseases cropped up which are autoimmune disorders. These range from allergies to Chrohn's Disease, which destroys the bowel. Many of these syndromes did not exist in the pre-sterile world. (Not all autoimmune disorders are this way, of course.)
There's a lot of talk about the coming threat of Avian H5N1 flu, how it might kill many millions, far beyond the 1918 flu and others, because of how much people travel in the modern world. Others worry about bioterrorism.
Plans are underway to deal with it, but are they truly thinking about some of the tools the modern world has that it didn't have in 1918 which might make up for our added risks? We have the internet, and a lot of dot-coms, both living and dead, created all sorts of interesting tools for living in the world without having to leave your house.
In the event of an outbreak, we'll have limited vaccine available, if there's much at all. Everybody will want it, and society will have to prioritize who gets what. While some choices are obvious -- medical staff and other emergency crews -- there may be other ideas worth considering.
Today, a significant fraction of the population can work from home, with phone, computer and internet. The economy need not shut down just because people must avoid congregating. Plans should be made, even at companies that prefer not to allow telecommuting, to be able to switch to it in an emergency.
Schools might have to close but education need not stop. We can easily devote TV channels in each area to basic curriculum for each grade. Individual schools can modify that for students who have internet access or even just a DVD player or VCR. For example, teachers could teach their class to a camera, and computers can quickly burn DVDs for distribution. Students can watch the DVDs, pause them and phone questions to the teacher. (However, ideally most students are able to make use of the live lectures on TV, and can phone their particular teacher, or chat online, to ask questions.) Parents, stuck at home would also help their children more.
Delivery people (USPS, UPS etc.) would be high in line for vaccination to keep goods flowing to people in their homes. You can of course buy almost anything online already. Systems like Webvan, for efficient grocery ordering and delivery could be brought back up, with extra vaccinated delivery drivers making rounds of every street.
Of course not everybody has a computer, but that need not be a problem. With so many people at home, volunteers would come forward who did have broadband. They would take calls from those who do not have computers and do their computer tasks for them, making sure they got in their orders for food and other supplies. Of course all food handlers would need to be vaccinated and use more sterile procedures.