The Future of Healthcare is in Your Smartphone
In the last decade, smartphones have changed every aspect of our lives. Medicine is next. In the next decade, medical smartphone apps and attached monitors are going to change every aspect of healthcare. For the first time, patients are going to take center stage. Cloud-based digital avatars won’t replace physicians, but the doctor-patient relationship will be completely different.
Right now, if you have a rash, you can snap a quick picture of it and feed it into an app. Within minutes, the app will text you a diagnosis including a suggestion for an ointment or a recommendation to see a dermatologist.
New solutions to old problems are everywhere. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved smartphone devices and apps that take blood-pressure readings and electrocardiograms. You can email the results to your doctor who then pulls the results up on his favorite computer for viewing, complete with an analysis such as atrial fib. This cuts hours off of the time-critical process of diagnosing heart problems.
Even in the middle of the night, you can get a secure video consultation with a doctor via your smartphone for the same cost (including copay) as a doctor visit. Consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is forecasting that virtual physician visits will replace many office visits in the near future. The great news for consumers is that virtual visits are cost transparent so you know in advance what it will cost you. This takes the great what-is-it-going-to-cost conundrum out of healthcare.
Even bigger changes are coming. With wearable wireless sensors, you can use your smartphone to generate useful data around-the-clock. Blood oxygen, glucose levels, and heart rhythms can be collected. This information, because it is sampled many times during the day, is very useful to your doctor. Smartphone apps will soon let you perform an easy eardrum exam on infants and diagnose the problem without seeing a pediatrician. Among devices that are being tested are wireless contact lenses that monitor glucose levels and necklaces that check the fluid in your lungs. Soon there will be socks and shoes that monitor an elderly person’s gate and alert caregivers when they are at risk of falling. Perhaps best of all, daily pill dispensers will tell caregivers if and when medications are being taken.
The new generation of smart watches and armbands will soon be able to collect much of the data that an intensive care unit monitors, allowing you to avoid the $4,000 a night expense and exposure to infections that go along with overnight hospital visits.
Hand-held ultrasound devices are already being issued to students in medical schools where they are replacing stethoscopes. Believe it or not, hand-held MRIs are not far behind. A smartphone x-ray device that allows you to take a selfie of a potentially broken bone is in the works. In the not too distant future, nanosensors will be swallowed or attached during an operation and transmit a whole new world of information to your physician.
This may sound like science fiction, but much of it is already here. This is going to reduce the costs of high-level healthcare and make it much more accessible.