WASHINGTON- Thanks to smartphones, email, video games and photo sharing are available at the touch of a finger.
But attach a special case and that same phone can produce an electrocardiogram (EKG) from the electrical impulses in your hand and send it to a doctor.
“It’s a neat little device,” says E.B. Fox, who uses a heart monitor and app from AliveCor to keep track of his arrhythmia.
The 57-year-old North Carolina resident says he has been using the device since October. If he thinks there is a problem, he can email a reading to his doctor for an evaluation.
“I have no doubt it’s saved me one doctor’s visit at least,” said Fox.
The heart monitor is just one example of progress in the booming mobile health — or mHealth — industry, which is changing both the way doctors practice medicine, and the way patients handle medical decisions.
“Mobile apps are one of many mHealth tools that are helping to engage consumers and patients in their own health care,” David Collins, senior director of the mobile division at the non-profit Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, told AFP.
Slashing health care costs
Doctors and developers alike are hoping that these mobile apps and devices will lead to lower health care costs.
Health care businesses such as hospitals and insurance companies traditionally focus on quantity, counting the number of patients seen and procedures done.
But as the system shifts and firms try to quantify the quality of care, factors such as whether a patient returns to the hospital within 30 days of treatment come into play, and can affect insurance payouts for care.
The idea is that if patients track their own health, using mobile apps and other tools, the extra data can reduce the numbers of doctor’s visits, and make each one more effective.
The Scripps Translational Science Institute in California is in the middle of a study examining the relationship between medical costs and mobile medical devices, specifically in patients with chronic conditions.
Participants receive an iPhone and either a blood pressure monitor, heart monitor, or glucose meter to track their high blood pressure, arrhythmia, or diabetes for six months.
Lead researcher Cinnamon Bloss said the team will be looking to see if by monitoring their own symptoms, patients can avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor or emergency room, as Fox has.