Imaging and disease management are just two areas being eyed
Medical applications enabled by mobile phone technologies are putting health care on speed dial.
Some heart patients enrolled in clinical trials at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for instance, wear heart monitors that rely on cell phones to analyze and transmit electrocardiograms. Among other functions, when cardiac data exceeds programmed thresholds, the cell phone automatically alerts paramedics.
“This is much faster than traditional 911 calls,” says Vladimir Shusterman, M.D., director of UPMC’s noninvasive cardiac electrophysiology laboratories.
Smart phones are already being used by San Diego paramedics to capture and transmit medical data during patient transports.
As hospitals acquire electronic health-record systems over the next decade, cell phones will likely become an integral part of that architecture. Medical Records Institute CEO Peter Waegermann predicts that within a year, personal health records will be stored on cell phones for easy sharing with providers.
“Within five years, cell phones will provide platforms for disease management, ranging from asthma to pediatrics,” Waegermann says.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology developed a mobile technology that helps diabetes patients manage their disease. Using a Bluetooth-enabled glucometer, cell phone and an interactive Web site, the technology lets patients upload blood sugar and activity information to their physician or a disease management team to help develop a care plan.
One of the more ambitious cell-phone applications in development could end up providing medical imaging services to underserved areas. Developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, the technology uses cell phones to both transmit and receive imaging data. Imaging machines such as an ultrasound connect to the cell phone, which then sends data to a central server. Once processed, the image can be sent back to the cell phone, regardless of where it is in the world.
Lead researcher Boris Rubinsky, a UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering, says this could offer a simple solution to a stark medical reality: the World Health Organization estimates that three-quarters of the world has no access to medical imaging. Rubinsky acknowledges that the size of cell-phone screens can present a problem, but he points out that the resolution continues to improve.
Powerful medical applications designed for the Apple’s popular iPhone are also appearing. One, a unique, touch-screen iPhone-teleradiology application, allows physicians to navigate through diagnostic images from plane, train or golf cart with workstation functionality.
In the future, expect mobile-computing companies to expand device functionality to tasks like prescription lookup and renewal, charge capture, clinical messaging and provider order entry.
“Mobile technologies are revolutionizing health care,” says Jay Bernhardt, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s center for health marketing.