Smartphones are commonplace. Nearly half (49.7%) of all US mobile phone subscribers now have smartphones according to Nielson in February 2012. These phones are powerful computers that are able to manage large amounts of data easily. Applications are commonplace and new software is developed everyday. Recently, many applications have been developed to help patients manage their own healthcare. Although there are many regulatory challenges that are created by the use of mass market medical smartphone applications, the benefits to patients can be enormous. Moreover, if simple, low-cost software programs can help patients better manage their disease at home and avoid costly hospital admissions and ER visits, the financial impact on the struggling US healthcare system could be substantial.
This week in the New York Times, Joshua Brustein penned an article describing a new smartphone application designed to help diabetic patients manage their disease. The article addresses some of the challenges in medical application “prescriptions” and explores the regulatory and FDA related issues surrounding medical applications. Certainly as Mr Brustein mentions, an application designed for patient care and disease management must be “bug free”. In a previous New York Times article from June, 2012, Julie Weed describes the benefits of medical smartphone applications for travellers who need to remain on a medication schedule through different time zones, manage diabetes or hypertension. Dr Eric Topol in his book “The Creative Destruction of Medicine” describes a world where smartphones and other technology will allow people to take control of their own healthcare–eliminating traditional doctor visits and potential hospitalizations for testing.
Certainly, technology has significantly improved medical care through the years. l believe that there is a huge upside to smartphone applications in medical care. Increasingly, physicians are under pressure to see more patients in less time. As more data is made available to both physician and patient, the task of properly evaluating the patient and managing the data and ultimately the patient’s presenting complaint and chronic disease in the office becomes even more daunting. Smartphones have the capability of collecting and organizing data that can be of use to both patient and physician. Simple tasks like tracking medication use and compliance, monitoring blood pressure or blood sugars can improve a provider’s ability to effectively and efficiently manage a chronic disease. Furthermore, having a patient input or transfer data to and from their smartphone engages the patient in their own care–thus improving outcomes. We know that patient engagement in care is critical to successful disease management.
Healthcare costs continue to rise in the US today. Many efforts are underway to decrease cost, eliminate waste, and identify and prosecute fraud. Technology such as smartphone medical applications have the ability to impact these skyrocketing costs. If, for example, a patient with diabetes is able to track changes or patterns in blood sugar levels and correlate them with particular behaviors, a phone call or electronic communication with his or her physician may prevent a hospital admission or clinic visit. As Mr Brustein mentions in his article, the total cost for treating diabetes in 2007 alone was $174 billion dollars. Imagine the cost savings that early detection of complications and acute events may have. Moreover, imagine the impact that such technology could have on each individual patient’s life.
To me, using smartphones to manage medical data and impact disease is more than an exciting science fiction story; this technology is reality. As a society, we have embraced smartphone use in nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Now is the time for physicians, patients and the government regulatory leaders to act. Lets take advantage of what technology has to offer and provide patients and physicians with the tools they need to expedite care and improve outcomes.