Health & Science
Medicine: There's An App For That
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 20, 2013 22:10
Dwindling are the days of environmental privacy, where a journey home removes the burdens of work or class, and a night in removes the pressures of social interaction. We have email, Facebook, text messages, Wi-Fi, and near-universal phone coverage. But we’ve had these things for a while. The world has gotten used to them, and they have become part of the very fabric of the institutions that hold society together. Yet we gradually but undoubtedly continue to move toward a society dominated not just by individual telecommunication connections but by a synthesis of the whole—I speak of the surging necessity of smartphones.
But smartphones are not just evolving to become better at matching candies, tracking the Commonwealth Ave. Direct, or causing photos to disappear. They are also, far more fascinatingly, developing more and more to change the ways we engage with some of the most important facets of our lives, including the ever-challenging and ever-intimidating act of dealing with what often frightens us the most—our own personal health.
The Kafkian country doctor is long gone and so is his reliance on horses to escort him to those in need. More and more people across the nation have access to medical care than ever before, and this fact continues to become more and more solidified. There are still large underserved areas across the country where patients must travel far distances to be greeted by physicians with adequate knowledge, but the exciting new reality is that proximity is becoming less and less of a limiting factor for care with the advent of the boundless possibilities of mobile broadband. This advent, in short, is largely the result of mobile medical apps.
A few weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration released a comprehensive document detailing the guidelines of approval standards regarding the next generation of mobile medical apps, indicating a commitment to protecting the patient as well as a devotion to the immense capabilities that handheld technology can produce. It estimates that 500 million people across the globe will be using mobile medical apps by 2015, and that by 2018 this number could be in the billions. This number a few years ago was zero. Such a rapid change does not go without impact, and the patient-doctor interaction is becoming more dynamic now than ever before. As tech-savvy pre-meds gradually claim more physician roles, this dynamic process will only continue to evolve into one that is more interactive, more personal, and more expedited than ever thought possible.
But what can such mobile medical apps do? Aside from apps that physicians might use behind the scenes to manage patient documentation, the control that these programs put in the hands of the patient is astounding. There already exist approved apps that can provide any pharmaceutical information in an instant, give nursing mothers drug interaction safety guidance, and allow people to track nutrition and caloric intake to a T. On the healthcare provider side of things, the FDA even states how “some mobile medical apps can diagnose cancer or heart rhythm abnormalities, or function as the ‘central command’ for a glucose meter used by an insulin-dependent diabetic patient.” A phone can diagnose cancer. We are officially living in the future.
In the era of Big Data, there is of course the omnipresent danger of mistakes that can come from such an abundance of information for doctors to process. Important signals can be lost in a maddening array of noise, and human error could only compound these dangers due to the sheer magnitude of factors and parameters that will suddenly become available for analysis.
I am confident, however, that just as upgrades consistently solve glitches on a variety of other platforms, the developers of mobile medical apps will indefinitely continue to find ways to improve various systems for the good of the patient. Mobile medical app availability and prevalence will vastly expand patient input, and doctors can focus on what they do best, making informed diagnoses and physically carrying out the necessary interventions of patient care.
The doctor-patient dynamic will be forever changed by the amazing capabilities of modern handheld technology. This innovation will only continue to develop as the years go on, and before long almost everything we can call a healing touch will be possible through the tap of a screen.