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January 23, 2017

Monitoring Your Health Through Your Cellphone

By Special Guest
Alex Pop, Writer, Florida E.N.T. & Allergy

The smartphone may just be the future of medicine. With innovative breakthroughs in cloud computing and machine learning, the “medicalized smartphone” is poised to reduce the need for doctors while giving more power to patients.

Toward a Brave New World of Medicine
Dr. Eric Topol is a believer that people will start running common medical tests while skipping office visits and sharing the data with people other than their physicians. Dr. Topol lays out the foundations of this argument in his book, titled “The Creative Destruction of Medicine.” In it, he finds that - contrary to the popular belief of most doctors that medicine should be administered by a specialist - companies are working to provide Do-it-Yourself devices that can help individuals conduct routine exams themselves.

Do-it-Yourself Devices
Such devices can measure blood pressure, monitor blood sugar levels, and chart heart activity (Source). A recent article from Cambridge Consultants found that smartphones could act as a glaucoma testing device, allowing individuals to check for open angle glaucoma through a Gear VR headset that syncs to one’s smartphone (Source). Belgian researchers have found a way to monitor one’s electrocardiogram through a system that integrates low cost, low power interfaces from a heartbeat monitor to an Android mobile phone (Source). Most recently, MIT discovered “epidermal electronics” that can measure heart rate or sun exposure (Source).

Digital Doctor Visits
To be clear, these devices are still a long way off from the hyper-connected, push-button utopias we envision when we speak of connected medical devices. However, 2014 research from Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers, two of the largest consulting firms in the country, finds that as many as one in six doctor visits were digital, not physical (Source).

What constitutes a digital doctor visit?

Digital doctor visits, or doctors on demand, connect patients to board-certified doctors through live video on smartphones and tablets. Non-emergency medical issues can be taken care of, and doctors may write prescriptions if needed. Digital doctor visits also include snapping a picture of an ailment (typically a rash, infection, or other outwardly visible ailment) and having a professional recommend further treatment.

Cost Effective
The price of such a digital visit varies, but typically, individuals can receive board-certified medical advice for the cost of a co-payment. Not everyone is a believer, however. Dr. Topol finds that “doctors don’t like D.I.Y. anything. There are some really progressive digital doctors who are recognizing the opportunities here for better care and prevention, but most are resistant to change.” The two consulting firms forecast that virtual physician visits will soon become the norm over physical office visits, saving clients’ transportation costs and waiting room time.

The Gamification of Health
At the end of the day, Dr. Topol believes that smartphones make taking care of yourself more of a game. Our devices are already so close to us, so why not maximize their use in order to take ownership of our own health?

Final Thoughts
For now, smartphones can only be used to take care of non-emergency, surface-level ailments. We will always have a need for doctors, such as for acute care, invasive surgery, or emergency treatment. However, in the coming years - and certainly in the next decade - we will see an unprecedented number of low-cost treatments that can monitor your health through one’s smartphone.

About the Author: Alex Pop is a writer on behalf of Florida E.N.T. & Allergy, an independent ear, nose and throat practice in the Tampa Bay Area, whose physicians have served the Tampa Bay community for over 40 years. He enjoys educating people on the issues facing society in regards to medicine and technology.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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