Archive for May 28th, 2012
Every year, it seems that mobile technology gets a little bit better—phones can do new things, tablets see increased connectivity, and tracking devices become even more precise. Many even think technological advancements will lower healthcare costs by providing affordable, online training in medical transcription that may streamline a very cumbersome process. In fact, improved communications are usually one of the primary goals of these developments but are by no means the only application. Health management has been one of the most significant beneficiaries of mobile technology, both at home and abroad.
One of the first uses of mobile phones for health management was in the developing world, and the technology is still used in these settings quite successfully. Doctors in remote villages use internet-connected devices to beam photos, videos, and exam notes to bigger clinics and hospitals, for instance. Cell cultures and slides can also be remotely scanned and compared against digital libraries. This application of mobile technology has significantly reduced the time it takes to diagnose diseases like HIV and tuberculosis.
The use of mobile technology can also help people in rural or impoverished areas gain access to health care even when no doctor is present. Initiatives like the Grameen Foundation, which focuses on bringing prenatal health to rural Ghana, make extensive use of cell phones in order to provide remote care. Pregnant women are now the recipients of medical attention and advice they could not receive before.
Mobile health advancements are in no way limited to the developing world. Many of the most cutting edge technologies are taking root in the world’s top hospitals and institutions. Smartphones, tablet computers, and other Internet-ready portable devices are increasingly being viewed as portals to the medical world. With the right applications, mobile technology has the ability to speed both access to care and information dissemination.
The United States National Institutes of Health was one of the pioneers of the mobile health information revolution when it launched a medical library specially optimized for mobile platforms. That library, called Mobile Medline Plus, contains nearly all of the information present on the regular Medline Plus website but re-formatted for easy mobile viewing.
A range of new health care apps take mobile health a step further, by putting care and sometimes even diagnosis directly into the patient’s hands. Patients can video chat with their doctors, or text in queries. Sometimes, the phone itself can do the work: with certain apps, patients can photograph conditions like moles or rashes, then let the phone determine whether medical advice should be sought. Certain apps can go so far as to recommend nearby doctors or clinics.
“Many fields are going to change because of artificial intelligence, pattern recognition, and cheaper tests,” Daniel Kraft, the executive director of mobile health company FutureMed, told TechCrunch in early 2012. “In the future we might not prescribe drugs all the time, we might prescribe apps.”
Mobile technology can also be used to track ongoing conditions. Apps like Ubiqi, designed for migraine sufferers, give patients a place to record symptoms, chart diet and medicine intake, and even communicate with other patients. “For people suffering from chronic diseases like migraines, using a simple tracking and data collection tool can help identify patterns and trends, making it easier for patients to communicate triggers with doctors,” Jacqueline Thong, a Ubiqui representative, said at a 2011 conference devoted to mobile health issues.
Patients can simply bring in their phones when they have an appointment, Thong said, and doctors can download their histories instantaneously. Researchers can also use data stored in the aggregate to improve research and general understanding of the condition.
The speed with which mobile health care is advancing can be dogged by administrative catch-up. At least in the United States, health care privacy laws are set up with the security of in-person visits in mind. Many practices are not equipped to deal with the procedural ramifications of e-medicine—even if their technology is up to speed. Appointments conducted via cell phone may need to be HIPAA protected, and there needs to be a structure for remuneration for such care.
Better access to mobile technology and internet connectivity is certainly changing the face of medicine. Advances in apps, online tests, and cloud storage are reducing a lot of the wait times and uncertainty that have traditionally accompanied most diagnoses. The realm of mobile medicine is nowhere near developed, however. Advancements are ongoing, for doctors and patients both.
Contributed by Abby Ledford from Online College Classes.
Tags: Abby Ledford, app, mobile app, mobile phone, mobile technology, technology
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