2000 Roundup: August is hot for health

2000 was a hot summer for health, and the NHS produced a news hat trick in October

The start of the year yielded little interesting news for the medicine and health industry followed by a second half chock-full of technological advances.

The bad news is that mobile phones may well be affecting your health (that depends entirely on whether or not you actually believe what our e-minister says and whether you believe the research efforts by the Consumer Association, either way, no one knows for sure so be careful out there!) but the good news is that we are moving ever closer to a world where nanotechnology will be used to operate inside the human body without leaving any ugly scars:

In July, a robotic surgery device was approved by health officials in the United States. It lets doctors perform surgery sitting at a computer console equipped with hand grips and foot pedals. This technique is intended to give surgeons better control of their tools.

At the start of August, an important precedent was set by an American neurologist, who filed a £530m lawsuit against mobile phone maker Motorola. He charged the company with causing him to develop a malignant brain tumour through using its phones.

Also in August, the high profile nature of health on the Internet became apparent. Research firm Forrester showed traffic figures indicating surfers were spending more time look for health sites than porn sites.

In the same month, the finger was pointed at government service NHS Direct, widely hailed as Tony Blair's first step towards the rollout of his e-government venture. The Consumers Association said that NHS Direct was overlooking potential emergencies.

Later in August, IBM announced that it would punt $100m into genetics and life science. The money was to be spent on the technology used to interpret the genetic code, which will help the meidcal profession fight disesase in the long term.

Another major feature of medical progress is the emergence of nanotechnology. At the end of August, researchers at Molecular Electronics, a firm dedicated to developing atom-sized computer components, explained why these could have such a great impact on our lives.

On the last day of August, experts questioned whether a new Web site was legal. Set up in the UK, but an import from Australia, DNAnow.com was designed to allow for paternity testing online. The site is still going strong -- a few hairs and £195 is all it takes for a test...

In October, Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London announced it would use a Kodak-designed system that allows medical consultants to look at X-rays, scans and other images online. This new system means that consultants can work from home or even abroad.

Also in October, the NHS announced it would launch kiosks to allow people not connected to the Web to access government-provided health information. About 150 kiosks will be installed in public places around Britain.

October was a big news month for the NHS, with health service experts saying in the British Medical Journal that open source is the way forward for the cash-strapped organisation. The cost of commercial software has become a real pressure for the NHS.

Mobile phones have become a real health fear despite a lack of conclusive medical evidence proving they are harmful. So confused is the government that in November it was revealed the government was no longer going to rely on the promises of Patricia Hewitt (self appointed medical guru) and was making plans to push through guidelines on mobile phone safety warnings.

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