Mobile Medicine? The Future of Wireless Health
The future of medicine is in your smartphone. The same device you use to keep in touch with friends, send photos, read the news, listen to music, shop for clothes, access your bank account and even, occasionally, make phone calls—the almighty, omnipotent smartphone—can now take your blood pressure, store your genome, and analyze your urine.
Doctors are increasingly using smartphones to access medical information and diagnose patients. Now, patients are harnessing the power of that technology to keep track of their own health in unprecedented ways, working hand-in-hand with doctors. For example, it used to be that your medical records were hidden away in your doctor's files—not anymore. You can now download the entirety of your medical records and store it all in one place, on a third-party smartphone app. Medicare Blue Button will retrieve your medical records for you in a simple text file and a smartphone app like iBlueButton will organize that data for you and your doctor, right on your cell phone.
This will give you access to information about your own health and body in detail and depth and it will also help you communicate more efficiently with your doctors, especially in an emergency. Leslie Saxon, a cardiologist at the University of Southern California, says that having this information in your hands is not just useful—it's your right.
"The ability to access your data and transmit it continuously is a basic civil right," Saxon told the BBC. "I say that because there's a lot of resistance to it that makes me a bit of an activist and much of it from the medical community who talk in highly arrogant terms about sequestering the information and not allowing people to have access to it."
Saxon is the founder of the USC Center for Body Computing, which fashions technology in the medical field not only as a tool to bring down medical costs for both the provider and the patient but also as a way to provide medical assistance at a global level, across borders and income levels. From her desk in Los Angeles, she was able to diagnose a Nigerian man halfway across the globe with a heart attack with only an iPhone heart rate monitor.
"What drives me to... create a healthcare system that's global where experts all over the world can reach patients very remote from them is my desire to serve the underserved," said Saxon.
Innovators in the medical technology field envision a world where sensors in and outside your body are constantly monitoring your health and sending all that information back to your smartphone. The technology is, in fact, already here. Proteus Biomedical is a company that's developed an "ingestible sensor" that's power by your stomach fluids. A patch "captures and relays your body's physiologic responses and behaviors" to your Bluetooth-enabled phone.
The benefits, of course, are abundant. Instead of relying on a one-time measurement of your blood pressure or heart rate, your doctor will have 24-hour records of your body functions. This will allow them to catch diseases and sicknesses before they become symptomatic, at a stage where they are more treatable. It also gives you—the user—better insight into how your body works. If after having a certain meal you see that your blood pressure has gone up, you will be able to self-correct and change that behavior. The technology permits you to make more empowered decisions about your health and body.
And of course, wireless health will give people in remote places access to healthcare and health professionals across the globe, quickly and inexpensively.
Self-monitoring and measurement is gaining more and more ground—products like CellScope that can detect ear infections and EyeNetra that will allow anyone, anywhere to get an eye test are becoming possible as more research and development is done. Technologies like Google Glass will also pave the way for wireless health.
The question of privacy and security is an important one—consumers, of course, will worry about their medical records getting in the wrong hands. But it's likely privacy technology will improve as health technologies do. The future, as they say, is bright and soon enough, it'll be in your hands.