Star Trek, Mr. Spock, and a highly sought-after future

Star Trek showed us a future world where the goal was intrepid exploration to "seek out new life and new civilizations," so as to learn new concepts, philosophies, and ideas. But amidst it all, humanity, and the care and concern for the wellbeing of others was every crew member’s goal, and the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.
Star Trek, Mr. Spock, and the future of patient care

Like many others, I was deeply saddened to hear about Leonard Nimoy’s passing.  He was a great actor, but more importantly, a wonderful advocate who used his fame to raise awareness about the health dangers of smoking, and to serve as a role model who had quit.

For those of you who are non-Trekkies, Nimoy portrayed the character of Spock, the son of a logic-driven Vulcan father and an Earth-born mother. While he usually deferred to his empirical instincts, he did, in intense situations, react with human traits of concern, excitement, and relief, particularly in when he discovered his friend, Captain Kirk, had returned safely from that episode’s perilous dangers.  In many ways, Spock embodied the tension we all have—torn between our rational, logical selves and our more emotional, and reaction-driven selves.  And his careful logic made his sparing emotive outbursts that more endearing to fans, because it showed that even the most analytical mind—when concerned for another— could not fully disengage and address the occurrences dispassionately.

Star Trek was incredible for many reasons, but most significantly was that it represented a brighter tomorrow.  Sandwiched between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and smack in the middle of the Space Race and the Cold War, Star Trek represented the future we all wanted—our hopes for what life could be like.  Threats against peace were from galaxies unknown, not neighboring countries, and humans from across the globe worked together to save inter-galactic species in need.

And the technology, well, it was nothing short of amazing.

When I think about Sick Bay and contrast it to hospitals in the 1960s, such advancements seemed light years away.  Imagine: it was only ten short years earlier that we had developed the polio vaccine, and we still used the iron lung.  But on the US Enterprise, they had developed the technology that enabled them to use a small hand-held device to scan and diagnose a patient, and their vaccinations seemed more akin to present-day automatic air fresheners, than a shot.

But we’ve come a long way, and although we can’t teleport our patients (yet), when I think about the fact that we are able to scan a subcutaneous sensor in patients with an internal insulin pump to see their blood sugar level trends, it seems the Star Trek future isn’t that far off.  Wearable devices monitor our heart rates, much like Dr. McCoy was able to do for scouting parties who beamed down to a planet on a new quest.  We’re starting to see that future come into sharper focus—most notably with the Tricorder X-Prize (which is now down to 10 finalists and plans to and move into consumer testing this year!)

And the best part is that in that highly-evolved tomorrow, compassion was key– and even the most logical Mr. Spock defied his genetics to express genuine emotion toward his friends.  The future may hold holographic virtual assistants, but the respect and bond between fellow men and women will always be of the utmost importance.

May you live long and prosper.


  • Sue Gilbert

    One of the many things that were intriguing about Star Trek was the use of technology. As a youngster interested in NASA, planets ans science in general, to me it provided excitement and a glimmer into our futures, as did the Jetson’s. We are living it now. Thank you Dr Nick for reminding us how far we have come along. Yes, we miss you Mr.Spock.

  • Nick van Terheyden

    Thanks Sue – I agree. I loved the escapism and dreaming that came with the various episodes. It was a definite highlight to my week and helped open my mind to possibilities. And the Jetsons offered another window into an exciting future. My first science project was on NASA and space exploration and landing on the moon when I was 8 years old… I think these television series were the continuing fuel on the fire lit by NASA and its Apollo missions that pushed generations of kids into science and technology.

Dr. Nick van Terheyden

About Dr. Nick van Terheyden

This is a contributed post by Dr. Nick van Terheyden. As a pioneering creator in the evolution of healthcare technology, he brings a distinctive blend of medical practitioner and business strategist to the realm of health IT. To see more content like this, visit the Healthcare section of the blog.