An interesting story that emerged from the tragedy of the Haitian earthquake at the beginning of the year is how one victim used a medical app on his iPhone to help him treat a leg injury while waiting to be rescued from the rubble of his hotel. It highlighted an ever-increasing trend of people using smartphone apps to try to improve or monitor their health – from exercising and dieting, to checking medical information or managing stress. Thanks to increasingly sensitive sensors on smartphones, developers are now potentially able to create apps to diagnose whatever ails you.
But without the existence of any official organization monitoring the validity, accuracy and usefulness of these apps, consumers are on their own when it comes to deciding which, if any, to use. So any news that doctors are starting to endorse specific smartphone apps to provide healthcare is welcome. Take the iStethoscope application for example: created by a professor at University College London, the app enables physicians to monitor their patients’ heartbeats using their iPhones, whatever their location. Already downloaded by more than three million doctors, patients can email their heart pattern to their physician and receive a professional assessment of their condition.
And it’s not all about the app – a study currently underway in the US is looking at how mobile health can impact acute wound care, by encouraging people to send photos of their wounds to their doctors to avoid spending the time, money and energy involved in going to emergency rooms to wait for an evaluation of a superficial injury. Obviously it does rely on their smartphones having a good quality camera, but with about 90 percent accuracy in diagnoses, it introduces an interesting mobile health option that could be used to increase emergency room efficiency.
With tech-friendly doctors already also using smartphone videoconferencing to speak with patients and confer with colleagues as part of the evaluation and treatment process, the general medical profession should recognize that now is the time to investigate new ways of treating patients. After all, unofficial smartphone-supported healthcare is already out there – let’s start setting standards so that it can be used properly.
Naomi Weiser is part of the Amdocs Voices team, blogging from across the globe.