How Mobile Technology Is Changing Healthcare
There's no doubt that mobile devices and apps are changing the face of healthcare. Experts agree that mobile and e-health will soon play a fundamental role in the healthcare system, much like other aspects of life such as work, shopping and communication, which are already dominated by mobile devices. It's easy to see why. Apps, texts, Skype, online services - they are simple, convenient and fit in with our busy lifestyles.
Eric J Topol, of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, states that 'wherever there is a mobile signal, there is the capacity for delivering better healthcare.'
So let's look at what is happening.
Why Are Apps and Mobile Technology Changing Healthcare?
Online access: 4G enables quick download and black spots are rare. A few years ago many mobile users had to hold their phones near a window to trace a signal, but not now. Internet access is improving year on year.
Price: Technology is becoming more affordable. Smartphones are popular and telecommunication companies fight for business. It's competitive and this drives down the price.
More apps: Competition between big software firms has produced innumerable apps, including health-based ones. These range from medical advice sites to calorie counters and fitness devices, the choices are endless.
People are used to it: With each new generation come more advanced tech users. Children are born with the Internet at their fingertips. Leapfrog, for example, have recently released LeapTV, their interactive fitness gaming system aimed at pre-schoolers. Healthy eating and keep fit apps have flooded this market - and parents love them.
So, with the infrastructure in place, here are some examples of how e-health can be used today.
Booking online is par for the course with deliveries or holidays, and the health sector is finally catching up. Many patients are able to quickly book their own convenient appointment online.
Safe online portals, such as the NHS, are full of information on how to manage and treat various health conditions. What's more, it works both ways - patients can receive healthcare information and health providers can deliver it. During past outbreaks of pandemic flu and the Ebola virus, doctors used the Internet to advise people to stay at home for diagnosis. This was an essential part of managing the outbreaks and potentially saved lives.
Ordering medication online
Patients can speak to a doctor online and order genuine medication, via a secure service, that will arrive within a day. HealthExpress is one leading online pharmacy providing advice and treatment from registered doctors.
Management of health conditions
Asthma and diabetes management has improved with tracking and reminder apps that help patients manage their conditions. Medication reminder apps are growing in popularity, as are period tracker apps, which help women monitor their menstrual cycles.
Gaming took a physical turn with the arrival of the Wii ten years ago, which sold millions of units worldwide. More recently wearable tech, such as the FitBit, has supported personal exercise and weight loss plans.
And here's how it might evolve in the future.
Skype your GP
With the currently popularity of video-conferencing and webcams, surely it's only a matter of time before more GPs offer a Skype service. Patients would no longer need to take off a half day from work but could sort out health issues from their desk or sofa.
This could benefit not only those under time pressures, but the housebound, the seriously ill requiring a same day appointment, and those without transport. This could improve take-up of health services from those who are under-represented.
Using an online booking system is only a step away from GPs offering their own app with surgery information, a quick appointment booking service and a live chat option.
Phones are useful in so many ways. Many people carry a phone and apps already exist that convey vital medical information. This could evolve into a medication alert system whereby diabetics, for example, are sent medication directly to their location in an emergency.
Currently apps can inform patients when to take medications, but before long they'll be automatically re-ordering so no one runs short.
When it's difficult to get an appointment people go online and access information within seconds. A new survey of healthcare executives says that 64% believe mobile health could 'dramatically improve outcomes by giving people greater access to medical information'. Secure data systems are making the transfer of personal records safer than ever. These health services may soon reach out to communities that are poorly served, such as rural villages.
The survey also says that 50% of healthcare executives believe mobile health will 'enable patients to participate more pro-actively in their own care' within 5 years. This could include follow-up care. Handing over a sheaf of photocopied generic 'advice' isn't an effective way to provide post-operative care. An app that records the patient's health condition each day, including side effects, which are directed straight to a health provider could save time, unnecessary medication and pain or even death from complications.
Adult reliance on GP instruction resembles childish acceptance of parental direction. Mobile health devices promote personal responsibility. This is especially important with minor illnesses that ought to be managed from home. Trustworthy information from apps may lift the burden from overworked GPs and NHS resources.
Will mobile technology move into the fields of preventative medicine such as sight tests, vaccinations and hearing or breast exams? This could potentially save health services a great deal of money.
The future of health care surely lies in technology, but that's not to say GPs should be ignored. Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners says of mobile health -
'We have concerns about the patient safety implications. Patients will be having consultations with GPs who are unfamiliar with - and won't necessarily have access to - their medical history, or information about drugs that they have been prescribed.'
These are wise, but potentially lost words in the scramble for more easily accessible mobile health.
With the explosion in technological growth, it's thought that our health service will become more accessible, dependable, and user-friendly. More importantly it will help to engage people with their health.
Future mobile technology is a force that will no doubt continue to change the health care system beyond recognition, as it has with other aspects of our daily lives.