Medicine has advanced exponentially since the industrial revolution. Infant mortality has decreased. Diseases, like polio and measles, that were deadly and debilitating 80 years ago, have been largely eradicated, thanks to the mass production and availability of vaccinations.
So what’s next?
Thanks to digital technologies, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, the smartphone is going to upend everything you think you know about the future of healthcare. The result? A patient-centered information universe.
Can your smartphone keep you healthy?
Smartphones are a useful tool for keeping track of your health history. Consumers use mobile medical applications to monitor and manage their own health and wellness. 19% of smartphone owners have downloaded an app specifically to track or manage health, according to Pew Internet Research. There are apps that track and monitor overall health, diet and nutrition, activity and brain training, pretty much anything! The data from these apps can be analyzed, stored and shared with their physician.
Of course, as opponents of health monitoring apps have pointed out, tracking and analyzing data is only useful if you know what to do with it. How can someone take that artfully displayed dashboard of data that outlines their lazy, unhealthy behavior and do something about it? At this time, the apps do not do much in the way of suggesting healthy alternatives, but hopefully, consumers can have a greater understanding of their bad habits and begin to work toward better health.
While the information gathered by smartphones may not have immediate applications in general practice, medical researchers and doctors have found many applications for smartphones and apps in patient monitoring and care. For example, information obtained from a smartphone allowed physicians to track the recovery and rehabilitation of cardiac patients as they exercised in their own neighborhoods, using a smartphone connected electrocardiograph (ECG) device. Only last year, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) and Intel Corporation announced a collaboration aimed at improving research and treatment for Parkinson’s disease using wearable technology. Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Center Group, explained,
“Emerging technologies can not only create a new paradigm for measurement of Parkinson’s, but as more data is made available to the medical community, it may also point to currently unidentified features of the disease that could lead to new areas of research.”
There’s an App for That…
There has been rapid development of medical software applications (apps) to assist heath care professionals with many important tasks. But there are thousands of apps out there with a more patient-centric focus.
- • iWander uses the smartphone’s GPS to track the movement of your phone. Medical professionals use the technology to detect and monitor at-risk patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
- • iHealth Blood Pressure Monitor has a cuff that connects to the phone helping you monitor your blood pressure.
- • SmartHeart: Works with a heart monitor harness that wirelessly transmits information to the phone.
- • OnTrack Diabetes is a free application that helps diabetics manage their diabetes by tracking various items such as blood glucose, food, medication, blood pressure (BP), pulse, exercise and weight.
The greatest concern with medical apps is the lack of regulation. FDA approval is not mandatory unless the app professes to provide direct medical advice. Other apps available for free download include symptom checkers, where people can input basic symptoms such as abdominal pain and get a whole list of possible causes, prompting inappropriate self-diagnosis and unneeded anxiety (cough, WebMD, cough).
While it seems clean that smartphones can support patient health and are a useful tool for physicians, there are very few good-quality studies to answer the many questions that exist about their use and the impact they may have in the future. One thing seems certain, in the world of diagnostic and therapeutic technology, the smartphone may one day be as essential and irreplaceable as the stethoscope