It is predicted that by 2018, 50 percent of over 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users will have downloaded a healthcare application. For medical professionals, this is a statistic that cannot be ignored since a large percentage of these individuals are patients or potential patients. At first you may not see how this has a direct relationship to medical care, but the high usage of smartphones has already had several notable affects on the health industry.
Move over WebMD! Well, not quite yet considering the website has over 10 million U.S. visitors monthly, but we are seeing other diagnostic tools gaining popularity. These tools range from a specialized FDA approved iPhone case that can give an EKG analysis, to the Oto attachment that helps check for ear infections at home. In case you want to avoid additional hardware, there are other smartphone apps that can still deliver a medical diagnosis. There has been much debate over dermatology apps, but there are several in the market that allow users to take pictures of symptoms like rashes and receive a text with their diagnosis.
Can you imagine answering a patient’s questions via video chat rather than having them come into your office? Virtual doctor-patient consultations are growing in popularity, and Northern California seems to be pioneering the way. According to Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC), an estimated 10.5 million patients opted for “virtual visits” from their physicians. The convenience of not having to travel is a benefit for patients, and cost effectiveness has been sighted as a benefit for healthcare providers and insurers.
Fitness trackers and other types of wearable technology have been around for years, but the sensors that are currently on the market are far more advanced. Wristwatch sensors that can monitor and store data regarding blood pressure and other vital signs are becoming more common. An innovative approach being taken by developers has been to implement this type of technology into a variety of wearable devices, such as a necklace that can check the amount of fluid on a patient’s lungs. These wearable sensors could have a huge impact on the future of hospital stays, allowing a patient to stay in the comfort of their home while their vitals are monitored remotely. Granted, this would only be possible in situations not requiring emergency, critical, or surgical procedures.
4. Laboratory Testing
Lab results will soon be only a finger prick and a 15-minute wait away thanks to new smartphone devices. Researchers are working on devices that will collect a specimen that can be inserted, analyzed, and recorded by your smartphone. This would result in much lower costs for patients that would normally have to pay for labs, and could also mean a change for the future of physical labs.
5. Medical Research
The use of smartphones for healthcare is not only patient driven, as major companies are starting to focus on the advancement of medical research. Apple’s ResearchKit is a framework open to medical professionals and developers that facilitates the creation of healthcare studies and research. Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of Operations stated, “Studies that historically attracted a few hundred participants are now attracting participants in the tens of thousands.” The ResearchKit framework paired with the HealthKit tracking app will have a positive impact on discovering and exploring little known diseases and other medical issues.