Computer Memory and Healthcare

/ 17 December 2020

One of the larger, yet perhaps lesser generally known, advances in the Apple Silicon Macs is their Unified Memory Architecture. In short, where previous models had separate pools of memory for the CPU, the GPU, and other components (think 16 GB of main memory, with 1 GB of video memory, sort of thing), these new Macs have one pool. This means they don’t need to spend the overhead of copying data between pools when each other needs them. The performance gains are quite real with this, and as a user of an M1 Mac, I do think this is a big part (alongside the insanely speedy flash storage where swap files end up) of why the 16 GB memory cap is not equal to what 16 GB of memory meant on Intel Macs in any way. Grant you, the Apple SoC versus Intel CPU also help speed things up, but memory being a different beast is not an insignificant part of the performance picture.

Recently I’ve realized that these two architectures of computer memory can serve as an illustration for another part of our lives here in the United States: Healthcare. How many of us, at one point or another, have had to sign medical record release forms, or wade through call after call between clinics to get records copied from one place to another? Does this sound familiar? Also familiar to the above paragraph?

The root of a lot of these challenges is the way insurance, and with it healthcare networks, are operating so independently. All too much of the time for our technitechnological age fax machines (remember those?) and, well, paper, end up used to copy records. Their electronic records aren’t even compatible. If we’re lucky we can manually give someone a PDF from one system to copy data to their system. Ever since Apple released the Health app I’ve waited for the day when that app can empower us patients to directly copy our records around. That day hasn’t yet come, but even if it does, it is still, at heart, copying data.

In politics people have been talking about single-payer health systems for a while. Alongside that, ideally, would come a unified standard for digital health records management. One pool, if kept in sync behind the scenes, of health records. Us, as patients, may be at some level the key to access our own records, but we’re all a new clinic needs, not the other clinic records come from.

Universal Health Care can, in that way, be partially illustrated by the Unified Memory Architecture on Apple Silicon Macs. Maybe it isn’t a perfect illustration, but it is something that has been in the back of my head the last few days.