Now that we are in a presidential election year, much
attention has been directed toward the question of how to extend healthcare to
more people. But this crucial question too easily obscures another equally
important question, which is how to maintain quality of care. At a time when
technological advances in medicine and bioscience threaten to be diluted and
obscured under piles of mandatory authorizations prior to their use,
nevertheless, personalized healthcare remains theoretically within reach. As the
technology develops to help us differentiate between various groups of patients
and their particular susceptibilities, the main question which remains is
whether or not we can get this technology into the heads of the right doctors
An example of this quandary is found in the exciting new
bioassays available to detect viruses. The FDA has just approved Luminex's xTag
Respiratory Virus Panel that can detect 12 different kinds of viruses. These
viruses are responsible for more that 85% of the viral infections that humans
suffer from. These viruses include influenza as well as common cold viruses.
Use of this test can help replace older techniques which rely on cell culture,
and can take two to three days to provide results. In contrast, the new test uses the latest in DNA technology,
analyzing genetic material in secretions at the back of the throat.
Use of this technique can lead to quicker and more
appropriate use of anti-flu drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza. In addition,
knowing that your patient actually has a virus rather than a bacterial
infection will decrease a physician's pressure to prescribe antibiotics.
Overuse of antibiotics is an unnecessary expense and may breed resistant
bacteria, which is a long-term healthcare expense.
Ironically, early detection panels such as xTag may have
trouble finding common usage because of their initial expense, despite the fact
that this technology actually decreases healthcare costs dramatically in the
Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and associate professor of
medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About
the Epidemic of Fear