In 2012, Dr. Eric Topol was interviewed on NPR’s “Science Friday.” During the broadcast, the cardiologist and author implied that mobile medical apps can help to disrupt social hierarchy in a similar way that the Gutenberg printing press did when it inspired more people to begin reading. Mobile applications are making a major impact in the medical field as both patients and professionals utilize them at home and inside hospitals.
Medical Apps and Gutenberg’s Press
Topol went on to explain that “When individuals have access to their relevant data, sure there’s opportunities and concerns regarding it being used in a negative or promiscuous way, but when it’s used appropriately, that individual has new insight. And just like in the Middle Ages learning how to read, this is about consumers, the public, the individual having new insights and now a parity and getting out of this era of information asymmetry, where the doctors had the domain and the information.”
In essence, Topol claims that supplying people with more medical information will liberate them from the monopoly doctors seem to have on diagnosis and treatment. Just as the scholars used to tell people what the Bible said, doctors tell us what are bodies are doing and what it means.
So like Gutenburg’s mass distributed Bible, Topol seems to suggest that medical apps and other technology will help the everyday person to become involved in the interpretation of his or her own personal data. Topol explains that he first became aware of this when patients showed him their own do-it-yourself EKG readings taken with their smartphones.
Apps for Patients
Some cutting edge apps include:
•iTriage helps users to evaluate their symptoms and can suggest the nearest hospitals
•iBGStar Diabetes Manager includes an iPhone-enabled meter to track blood glucose and insulin levels through an app. The collected data is then shared automatically with your doctor’s office
•iHealth Blood Pressure Dock measures blood pressure as well as heart rate and reports its finding in interactive graphs displaying your vital signs.
Another experiment includes a small computer chip ingested as a part of a pill that is swallowed along with your other pills. This tiny sensor records the dosage you have taken and transmits the data it collects to a special patch which you stick on the outside of your body. The information is then conveyed to your smartphone and subsequently your doctor if you instruct it to.
Will Doctors Use Them, Too?
It is not just patients using medical apps to learn more about their health and make personal diagnoses. Doctors, too, are taking full advantage of the incredible technology available on their mobile devices. The next time you visit the doctor’s office, your family physician might pull out his or her iPhone to decide on the best treatment for you.
A professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, Robert Wachter believes that apps which help doctors reach a diagnosis are helpful but are not “finely tuned enough to recognize that some symptoms are more important than others in reaching a diagnosis.” Watcher told the Wall Street Journal that identifying and ranking symptoms is “part of what I trained 20 years to do—to tell which are irrelevant and which ones are important. That’s really hard to say to a computer.”
Jason Maude, the CEO of Isabel Healthcare Ltd. which created the medical app Isabel to help prevent misdiagnoses, shares that these tools like his app are “not to replace the doctor but to be an adjunct. The tool comes up with list of possibilities, and it’s then the doctor’s job to work out the probabilities.”
Apps for Doctors
There are quite a number of useful medical apps already relied upon by physicians, such as:
•Epocrates is a well known medical app that provides physicians with basic information about different drugs, proper dosages for adults and kids as well as warnings about harmful combinations of medications. This is truly an electronic version of the Physician’s Desk Reference.
•UpToDate is a reference for when doctors are making treatment choices.
•Isabel is an app that allows doctors to input symptoms and see a list of possible diagnoses along with another list of medications which could cause these symptoms.
•Alivecor works as a heart monitor that can produce electrocardiograms when patients place their fingers on the monitor’s sensors, “which wirelessly communicate with the phone to produce the EKG.”
•iHealth Wireless Pulse Oximeter is an app that helps people struggling with sleep problems record their own blood-oxygen levels throughout the night. This data then helps doctors diagnose sleep apnea. This app utilizes a fingertip sensor which is worn by the patient and communicates wirelessly with the phone.
•CellScope Oto transforms a smartphone into an otoscope to view inside the ear. An optical device accompanies the app and allows doctors to record video from inside the ear.
•referralMD is a web/mobile application that offers a comprehensive business management solution designed to track and help monetize healthcare referrals. Similar in structure to a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program, referralMD manages healthcare referral network exchanges, economic and new business development efforts. It’s an application to specifically track referral sources, collaboration opportunities, follow-up activity and measure localized network growth.
•iScrub helps to control infections by rapidly displaying data about how well hospital staff are doing washing their hands. Hospitals often hire observers to check on how doctors, nurses and other staff are doing in the cleanliness department. This app provides a simple way for the observer to share observations with a central database. The speed with which the app communicates and updates can help change behavior right away.
•Breast Cancer Diagnosis Guide is an app that helps “breast-cancer patients enter and track details of their disease and treatment, from the size of the tumor to the presence or absence of estrogen receptors.”
•Clinicam works when a physician takes a picture of a patient’s condition, i.e. a rash or wound. The images are then uploaded to the individual’s electronic medical record without storing the pictures on the doctor’s personal mobile device which helps doctors keep the health-care privacy laws while still benefitting from a photo reference because a picture is worth a thousand words.
As mobile technology continues to rapidly advance, it is not completely surprising that apps can play an important role in the doctor’s office. Great doctors are implementing medical apps into their practices for tracking patient data and finding the right diagnoses. But it seems unlikely, for not at least, that a mobile medical app will completely replace the expertise and human connection of a real doctor. Instead, apps continue to serve as interactive tools to improve medical care.
Images from textually.org, www.imedicalapps.com, www.crainsnewyork.com and www.waxcom.com