While smart phones are blamed for several unconfirmed hazards to health, it has transformed healthcare radically. “Both Internet-based and mobile-based programmes can help people become more physically active, eat better and achieve modest weight loss over 3-12 months,” The range of data that can be captured and processed via a smart phone is mind-blowing. This includes input from sensors —blood pressure, glucose, oxygen concentration in the blood, heart rhythm, lung function and mood. Emerging 3D and 4D ultrasound technologies will become a cornerstone of medical education and a requisite aspect in the care of patients. The Smartphone will be part of not only patient assessment but also the diagnostic process, through the use of mobile algorithms, and management, including the ever-widening use of e-prescribing.
Telehealth—for example, tele-radiology with sophisticated imaging studies routinely interpreted not just out of the hospital, but increasingly out of the state or even out of the country—have become routine. Smartphone-based apps that will allow patients to view their own lab results, monitor vital signs, and apply artificially intelligent algorithms to diagnose themselves. These resources will calculate a “health report card” that will coach users on how to attain the best health outcomes. “Imagine a world where you could log into a portal and obtain an old electrocardiogram on a patient without having to try and track down another primary care physician, or even a hospital in another state. Imagine if you were able to get results of a recent culture to guide antibiotic therapy in real time.”
With the Smartphone revolution, an increasingly powerful new set of tools—from attachments that can diagnose an ear infection or track heart rhythms to an app that can monitor mental health—can reduce use of doctors, speed up the pace of care and give more power to patients. Smartphone can be used to do an electrocardiogram. The apps’ data are immediately analyzed, graphed, displayed on-screen updated with new measurements, stored and shared. Virtually all the routine labs can be quickly assayed from a droplet of blood. It is now feasible to get your results for various blood chemistries, electrolytes, liver, kidney, thyroid function tests and blood counts. Using a simple Smartphone attachment, you can now perform much of a physical examination yourself, including of your eardrum, skin, throat and oral cavity, lungs and heart. There are Smartphone sensors to quantify your radiation exposures, the pesticides in your food and the quality of the air you are breathing.
Several large consulting firms—including Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers—have forecast that virtual physician visits will soon become the norm. In many U.S. cities, you can even use a mobile app to request a doctor’s house call during which a physician would not only provide a consultation but could even perform procedures, such as suturing a wound, which would have usually required an expensive emergency room admission. Can Smartphone make Indian healthcare ethical and affordable?
Wristwatch sensors and bedrooms
It could do enormous good. By having the equivalent of intensive care unit monitoring on your wrist, hospital rooms—those $4,500-a-night risk zones for serious infections and other complications—can be replaced by our bedrooms. As a result, except for ICUs, operating rooms and emergency rooms, hospitals of the future are likely to be room less data surveillance centers for remote patient monitoring. Other wearable sensor tools now being developed include necklaces that can monitor your heart function and check the amount of fluid in your lungs, contact lenses that can track your glucose levels or your eye pressure (to help manage glaucoma), and head bands that can capture your brain waves. Smartphone sensors under development will be able to monitor your exposure to radiation, air pollution or pesticides in foods. And your medications could soon be digitized to provide you with reminders to ensure that you’ve taken them as prescribed. And you can do your own routine laboratory tests at a fraction of the current cost. No question of any cuts or commissions!
Eye care may be easier!
Apps are now being developed to handle all aspects of the eye, the throat and oral cavity, and the lungs and heart. Meanwhile, nearly all sophisticated medical imaging devices are being miniaturized: Hand-held ultrasound devices are already available, and some medical schools have begun issuing them in the place of the old-school stethoscope. Hand-held MRI machines aren’t far behind, and engineers have come up with a Smartphone-sized device that can generate X-rays. It won’t be long before you can take a Smartphone X-ray selfie if you’re worried that you might have broken a bone.
Microscopic sensors within your body can float in blood or be fixed to a micro-stent in a tiny blood vessel. You’ll then be able to keep your blood under constant surveillance for the first appearance of cancer, autoimmune attacks on vital tissues or the tiny cracks in artery walls that can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
Take asthma attacks. A teenager who’s prone to wheezing in gym class could get comprehensive data on environmental exposures such as air quality and pollen count, along with data on physical activity, oxygen concentration in the blood, vital signs and chest motion; their lung function can be assessed through their Smartphone microphone, and their nitric-oxide levels can be sampled via their breath. Then that information could trigger a warning, delivered by text or voice message on the teenager’s phone, that an attack is imminent and tell the teenager which inhaler would prevent it. The same type of procedure could prevent heart failure, seizures, severe depression and autoimmune disease attacks. Patients won’t just be empowered; they’ll be totally emancipated from doctors and medicalization.