One evening after work, Adam, a married lawyer in his late 30s, goes for a run. He’s fit for his age, but not an extreme athlete; he does his usual three-and-a-half mile loop, at a moderate pace, with a little sprint at the end. When he finishes, he’s not feeling so well. He checks his wrist sensor. His heart rate and blood pressure are both a little higher than normal. The sweat sensors on his jogging shirt detect other abnormalities.
When Adam wakes up the next morning, he checks the sleep-tracking application on his tablet, which shows more disturbing signs, nothing he can really peg, but it’s irregular, which has him worried. He’s feeling more tired and sluggish than usual. So he goes online to check for health alerts to see if there’s been some sort of viral outbreak in his area. There hasn’t been. He looks at his home air-quality monitor for mold or other environmental factors. Nothing.
So Adam pulls out his insurer-provided home healthcare kit, which checks his blood pressure, weight, temperature and pulse rate, all of which are immediately transferred to his diagnostic app. His body’s last 12 hours have now been rigidly chronicled. He’s awash in health data.
Later that week, Adam goes to the doctor, who already has all his vital information on her tablet, because Adam has shared it via mobile apps. This means Adam doesn’t need to see a nurse, who can instead focus on more important work. The doctor enters the exam room, tablet in hand, logging the conversation and entering information on the fly.
Adam’s doctor quickly makes her diagnosis. She gives him a prescription, as well as an option to use a pharmacy app that provides background information on the drug, advice about dosage, side effects and other reminders. Adam can also opt to send his health history to the drug company to help them with their real-world testing results. He declines to do so, because he’s worried about his privacy. But he also forgoes a drug discount in the bargain.
So maybe Adam is a little paranoid about oversharing, but recent studies showed that two out of three patients would consider switching to a physician who offers access to medical records through a secure Internet connection. 63% of patients are comfortable with their medical records being stored in the cloud, a number that will only grow as people grow more comfortable with the concept. The more patients know about their health — and the more easily accessible their information is electronically — the better outcomes they’ll have.
After a few days, Adam takes a home-health test. He and the doctor quickly teleconference. Like 70% of patients surveyed, he’s open to the idea of communicating with his doctor via text, email or Skype. All is well. He doesn’t need to go in for a followup. But even if there were problems, Adam’s doctor could monitor his progress remotely using sensors, and the health data she’s accumulated thanks to the new era of mobile health. Everyone saves time and money.
This may sound like a scenario from some sort of utopian future, but it is, in fact, healthcare’s cutting-edge present. Inexpensive sensors, embedded in clothing and under the skin, are able to provide intricate health data that would’ve seemed unthinkable five years ago. 30 million wearable sensors were sold in 2012. According to ABI Research, that number will jump to 160 million by 2017.
Lifestyle apps are growing almost as quickly. Nearly 50% of patients say that they plan to use mobile health applications within the next three years, and 89% of doctors, according to a study by eClinicalworks, say they plan to recommend a mobile health app to a patient.
mHealth, far from being impersonal and over-computerized, actually allows people to take charge of their health care more fully, and in greater detail, than ever before. Even occasional self-monitoring can prevent problems from occurring, and patients can get answers from their physicians at the precise moments when those problems arise. There will be fewer doctor’s visits, and a lot less hassle.
From the doctor’s point of view, mHealth systems reduce paperwork, red tape and the time it takes to gather data, allowing physicians to focus on treating and diagnosis. And medical researchers benefit as well, because they get a wealth of data, assuming patients are willing to share.
Rarely is mobile healthcare as coordinated as Adam’s, but it’s starting to happen, in pieces, all around the world. It’s not a perfect vision — there’ll still be incurable sickness, not to mention misdiagnosis — but every day, mobile technology is improving medical outcomes, and prolonging lives.