Mobile Healthcare Series: Improving Medicine Around the Corner & Around the Globe
Whether it’s in the home, at a community hospital, or in a remote village, mobile devices are revolutionizing the way medicine is practiced. Data can be transferred almost instantaneously in ways that would have seemed like science fiction just a generation ago. Information is shared between the emergency room and the radiology department as easily as it’s shared between a clinic in Botswana and a hospital in Germany. In the third and final part of our Mobile Healthcare series, we’ll have a look at some applications with exceptionally promising futures and how mobile devices are improving medical care around the world.
Connected Devices & Healthcare Apps
Today, there are more than 2 billion people online. However, soon there will be more things online than actual human beings. Connected devices will provide access to the internet in ways we haven’t even begun to imagine. Though the possibilities are endless, there are a number of ideas in the works that will greatly benefit global health and mobile medicine.
Wearable smart sensors that are wirelessly connected to the cloud will be able to generate huge amounts of data. Though this information can never replace the experience and intuition of a medically-trained human being, artificial intelligence will augment real-time decision-making and enable more accurate predictions. A Virginia-based company called Exmovere specializes in baby pajamas that are outfitted with biosensors. These small devices are programed to record data concerning moisture, movement, skin temperature, and heartbeat. The information is then wirelessly and instantly sent to a mobile device, such as a laptop, tablet computer, or smartphone. Parents can use an application to keep track of the baby’s mood. Overtime, the app uses the data the sensors collect along with the parents’ input to predict when the baby is tired, hungry, or upset.
Biosensor technology is a great advancement for parents, but also could be used by a number of other populations. Hospital patients or the elderly could wear clothing with built-in biosensors to alert doctors, nurses, or paramedics when a dangerous change to their vital signs has occurred. In the military, these sensors could be part of soldiers’ uniforms to monitor their health status on the battlefield. Athletes could also utilize biosensors for training purposes.
Applications can also be used to assist with medical sales. The Wall Street Journal reported that medical-sector companies are giving their sales representatives iPads in order help them present more interactive and informative pitches to physicians and hospitals by ensuring that all the information they’ll need is always at their fingertips. With a streamlined, intuitive user interface, mobile sales tools are poised to surge in popularity in the medical industry.
Mobile devices also have a promising future in the area of long-term disease management, proving especially useful to patients suffering from diabetes. While this disease can be extremely dangerous if untreated, by monitoring blood glucose levels and administering regular doses of medication patients can effectively manage their diabetes. Patient education and active participation are essential because the complications associated with this disease are less common and less severe in people who have well-managed blood sugar levels.
A study conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that patients that used a mobile phone app to assist them with managing their diabetes lowered the amount of hemoglobin A1c, a key measure in blood sugar control, by 1.9% over one year. The software reminded patients to check their blood glucose levels and then analyzed the results received from a wireless blood glucose monitor. If the levels were too high or too low, the app displayed steps to correct the imbalance. Also, the software stored patient information in a logbook and sent the data to the patient’s primary care doctor to help create better long-term treatment plans.
Mobile capabilities mean that doctors and patients don’t need to be geographically close either.
To diagnose certain diseases, you need two things – a powerful microscope and someone trained in interpreting the data. Unfortunately, these crucial components of medicine aren’t easily accessed in many parts of the world. The huge, sprawling hospital complexes we are familiar with are not the norm throughout the globe. Many people lack access to healthcare facilities or the resources for medical treatment. As a result, people die every year from diseases that are 100% curable. With mobile technology, however, it is possible that this tragic reality becomes a distant memory.
A senior from Rice University, Andrew Miller, designed a small yet powerful, battery-powered microscope that costs a fraction of the price of similar devices. He also invented an attachment that can mount any smartphone with camera capabilities onto the microscope. Using his inventions, highly magnified images can be taken with any camera phone and then sent anywhere in the world to be interpreted by skilled medical professionals. This technology would be a huge asset for developing nations because one doctor trained in reading microscope images would be able to interpret results from medical clinics spread out over a wide geographical region.
One new technology actually turns a tablet into a mobile pathology lab. Most touchscreens work by storing electrostatic charges. When another electrical conductor, such as a finger, comes into contact with the screen, it disturbs the charge and the device recognizes the interaction. Researchers have had success applying this technology to pathology. Currently, they can get a tablet to recognize a sample of bacteria applied to the screen and in the future they hope to improve the tablet’s capabilities to recognize other bio-samples, such as blood or saliva. There are a few problems to work out (applying the sample directly to the touchscreen is far from sterile) but soon mobile pathology could make lab testing more efficient by providing quick, mobile analysis and reducing the chance of human error. This technology would also benefit global health by bringing pathology labs to people who live too far away from traditional hospitals.
The creators of the application Lifelens had a similar idea in mind. After taking a photo of a blood sample using highly magnified smartphone camera, the app analyzes the image to detect the presence of malaria. The app also pushes the information along with the GPS location of the photo to a database so scientists and healthcare workers can monitor outbreak trends. In tests, the app accurately diagnosed malaria in 94% of cases. In 2010, over 650,000 people died from this preventable, treatable disease. The creators of this app hope that in the future, their work will be able to save lives by accurately diagnosing this disease so patients can receive treatment and scientists can better predict where outbreaks will occur and engage in preventative measures.
With all of the benefits of integrating mobile technology into healthcare, it’s a safe bet that hospitals, entrepreneurs, and medical professionals will continue to find new and more creative ways to use smartphones and tablets to augment traditional medicine. We want to hear from you; what are some other ways mobile devices are being used (or could be used) to enhance patient care and improve global health?