Patient Empowerment: Introducing the Medical Selfie

This post first appeared on Pulse

It is time we make the patient an integral part of the new treatment paradigms. New imaging methods make medical information more accessible and understandable than ever before!

Few phenomena have known such a rapid uptake by the large public as “the Selfie”. A few years ago when you saw a person or a couple struggling to take a picture of themselves by turning their camera you wouldn’t hesitate to offer your help in taking a picture. People back then were glad you were there to help them to capture the moment. Nowadays your offer would most likely be met with the words: “No thanks, we got it!” while they extend their “Selfie Stick” to have a wider angle. It looks like it has become socially very acceptable to focus the attention on one’s Self and even experiment with the (sometimes ridiculous) poses like the duck face or photo bombs to ensure the result is “optimal”. It is clear that women and men who take a lot of Selfies have become very aware of what their good pose is, they got to know themselves a bit better through this new “imaging” approach.

What if we can use this evolution to, not only have people care more about their appearance, but also about their health? As you could see from my previous posts we are mainly active in the field of respiratory medicine. One of the main problems in this field is that it is difficult for patients to relate to and understand what happens in their lungs. Of course they know when they experience difficulties breathing but what actually happens when they use their inhaler is less well known to them. Especially getting patients to take medication for which they don’t feel the effect right away has turned out to be challenging. An example of this are the so-called inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) that reduce or prevent inflammation in the lungs. The effects of these drugs, however, are not immediately felt by the patient. So often patients think the drugs don’t work so they decide not to take them anymore. For a prophylactic drug like ICS this is the last thing patients should do since the drug prevents rapid lung function decline and costly exacerbations.

About ten years ago we at FLUIDDA started the development of a novel imaging method for lung diseases called Functional Respiratory Imaging (FRI). The video below describes how FRI works and which patient specific parameters can be extracted from the high resolution CT scans (all parameters related to lung structure and function are real data, not artistic renderings).



The technology has been proven to be very effective as a biomarker in drug discovery and clinical trials. However, a while ago we did a little experiment in the clinical practice led by an eminent psychiatrist with a PhD in respiratory medicine. Her experiment consisted of two groups: one group received the conventional lung function test parameters which are essentially a bunch of numbers and graphs. The other group also received these conventional test results but in addition they were shown their patient specific images (the ones described in the video above) derived from their CT scans. It turned out that the patient group who saw the images was significantly more engaged in the therapy, asked more questions and explanation which led to better compliance and adherence. So maybe it is time to make the patient an integral part of the new treatment paradigms as we discover that new imaging methods make medical information more accessible and understandable than ever before!

Patients empowered by their “Medical Selfies”, taken under proper guidance of medical professionals (!), could be an integral part of solving many challenges in healthcare and thereby realizing the revolution we so badly need.

Now I am curious: do you feel we need to make medical data and information more accessible to patients by means of imaging, online platforms, social media, patient advocacy etc?

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