Smartphones, Paving the Way for Healthcare’s Future (Part 2 of 2): A Generational Shift

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A TEDMED conference recently held in Washington D.C. was attended by roughly 300 healthcare professionals and policy wonks, Lauran Neergaard, a medical writer for the Associated Press, reports.

During the conference, attendees were given a “smartphone physical” that employed 10 medical devices newly released by the tech industry. Many of these were approved for sale by the FDA, while others were “experimental prototypes gathered for the demonstration by Nurture by Steelcase and the doctor website, Medgadget.”

What’s really interesting here, however, is who administered these smartphone physicals: medical students.

Shiv Gaglani, medical student at Johns Hopkins and an organizer of the physical, told Neergaard, “It’s going to be our generation that adopts most of these.”

The phrase “paradigm shift” has been associated with the healthcare industry under reform, but there is as much of a generational shift going on, especially with technology. The smartphones that so annoy some members of the older generation are becoming intricately linked to the patient experience on an increasing basis.

Healthcare-oriented smartphone devices are entering the marketplace every day, Neergaard writes, but “today’s apps mostly are educational tools, digital health diaries, or reminders and fitness sensors.”


“The new trend is toward more sophisticated medical apps, some that work with plug-in devices, that provide information a doctor might find useful.”

Take AgaMatrix’s iBGStar, a tiny glucose monitor that “diabetics can plug…into the bottom of an iPhone and check blood sugar on the go without carrying the extra devices.” Or the AliveCor Heart Monitor that simply snaps onto the phone “like a smartphone case.” All a patient has to do is put their fingers on the sensors and 30 seconds later, they have an EKG recording, Neergaard writes. The device sells for $199 to doctors, who can then prescribe it to patients.

Welch Allyn recently released the iExaminer, a device that “taps the smartphone’s camera to photograph deep inside the eye–the orange view of the retina filling the phone’s screen.”

CellScope Inc. is working on the otoscope (“that magnifier doctors use to peer into the ear”) for photographing the eardrum. “It’s not for sale yet, but might parents one day email that kind of picture to the pediatrician before deciding whether Johnny needs an office visit?” Neergaard wonders. Some specialists even speculate that it could be more effective for the picture to be on a phone than a pinpoint in the scope.

Finally, “University of Washington researchers are testing a way to measure lung function in people with asthma or emphysema as they blow onto the phone and it captures the sound. Usually patients blow into special machines at the doctor’s office, while a use-anywhere version might help someone spot early signs of worsening before they see a doctor.”

The implications are even broader than the technology itself. Think of how these devices could aid developing countries in delivering healthcare, “where full-size medical equipment is in short supply but smartphones are becoming common.”

Or what about the impact these devices could have on rural America, where “it can take hours to drive to a specialist, while a primary-care physician might quickly email that specialist a photo of, say, a diseased retina first to see whether the trip’s really necessary”?

As Dr. Nicholas Genes, emergency medicine professor at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, succinctly put it, “These tools make diagnosis at a distance much easier.”

What are your thoughts on this smartphone technology? Are you using similar smartphone-related devices right now? Would you consider incorporating the ones listed above into your delivery of care?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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