Editorial: Healthcare Sans Wires
I admit I am, without a doubt, addicted to my iPhone. Full-blown addiction. As in the cannot live without it, frustrated when I don't have 3G service, use it as my watch and alarm, to constantly check Facebook, consider it an extension of who I am as a person type of addiction. (It was a bit therapeutic to write those words).
My addiction really is a reliance upon the phone for the bits of information that essentially stream from it during any given day. Despite the sheer amount of time wasted reading the live feed on Facebook (how many times can you read "It's hump day!" or "TGIF!" before unfriending someone?), a balance has been struck. The time lost is gained through ways the smart phone allows me to organize my communication, my calendar and e-mails. It has increased my output productivity, though the downside is I may be at dinner at 7 p.m. responding to an inquiry from someone on the editorial advisory board.
Last week, I took a private tour of CNN with one of chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta's producers. He explained that broadcasting from remote locations once required tens of thousands of dollars of equipment and engineers to set up said equipment coupled with staff time and expenses, often to shoot a segment ultimately edited down to 2-3 minutes. With advances in technology, the old-school satellites are now gathering dust, and the producer said he often edits footage on his phone and sends it to the control room for broadcast-a change that has occurred in the past couple of years.
The increased use of smart phones, particularly as more people adopt them for personal use, is similarly set to change healthcare delivery. It's called mobile health, or "mHealth," a term used for the practice of medicine that relies on wireless devices, such as mobile phones, PDAs and remote monitoring devices, to improve patient care.
In one example of its application, The McKesson Foundation announced research grants for its Mobilizing for Health initiative to improve the health of underserved populations with chronic diseases through the use of mobile-phone technology. Grant recipients will examine a range of mobile-health technology options from sending simple SMS text messages to patients to remind them to take their medications, to a comprehensive mobile phone-based software program integrated with patients' electronic medical records.
This movement has caught the attention of lab organizations like ASCP. The association leaders are developing applications for mobile devices as they see a benefit to residents and pathologists. They also see a huge market in developing countries where computers are scarce but mobile devices are common. It's easy to "lug" phones loaded with reference range apps and lab manual PDFs into developing countries instead of heavy, cost-prohibitive desktops.
Additionally, wireless technology has been revolutionizing the preanalytical phase of laboratory testing since the turn of the century. Phlebotomists drawing from patient A can be notified by their pager or handheld scanner wirelessly connected to the LIS that Patient B in the next room needs a stat glucose. In less than the blink of an eye, precious minutes are shaved off an otherwise lengthy request-to-result TAT.
Weight and diabetes management applications (wireless scales that monitor weight-loss progress, for example, and wireless monitors that transmit glucose readings for sharing, review and analysis by both patient and physician) are steadily trickling onto the consumer market.
To use a cliché, when it comes to healthcare, smart phones are here to stay. Or, to employ the use of another cliché, the future is here.
What do you think could be next?