The Potential for Mobile Technology in Improving Public Health

The advances made in mobile technology are increasingly transferred to the public health arena, where they benefit patients, doctors and communities. Today, our guest blogger Charlotte Kellogg explores the various ways that mobile technology, especially in the form of smartphone and tablet apps, is changing the ways in which public health policies and healthcare are disseminated. As mentioned in a Pixels and Pills’ post about the use of mobile technology in healthcare, Charlotte argues that people entering public health careers today will be much better able to address public health issues in both developing and developed nations with help of mobile technology.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Charlotte Kellogg

Healthcare is one of the most essential‚îbut also one of the most costly‚îparts of any society. Government leaders and social activists are constantly looking for ways of delivering more for less, but today’s troubled economy often makes their quest seem all but futile. Enter mobile technology. Smartphones and tablet computers are becoming increasingly prolific, and their capabilities for improving healthcare delivery are only just beginning to be tapped. Continued research and development in the mobile marketplace may be one of the best long-term moves healthcare professionals and legislators can make.

A 2009 study conducted by research firm Morgan Stanley found that more people than ever before were connecting to the Internet from their mobile devices‚îsmartphones, PDAs, and tablet computers like iPads. The report surmised that, by 2013, reliance on the mobile web would surpass that of more traditional access points, namely laptop and desktop computers.

Much of this uptick in usage has to do with entertainment, but it could also be leveraged for health. “Mobile technologies have enormous potential as tools to promote healthy behavioral change, to transform the caregiver‚ìpatient relationship, and to revolutionize the way healthcare is delivered in the U.S. and around the globe,” an article in UX magazine said of emerging mobile trends. A number of apps already exist to help patients find nearby doctors; get information on common symptoms; and maintain healthy living routines, to name but a few. The potential for an increasingly wireless way to interact with and receive diagnoses from physicians is just around the corner, however, with starter apps already being tested in some markets.

In Sweden, for instance, doctors are using apps designed specifically for the iPhone 4 to remotely diagnose skin cancer. Skin cancer is a major problem in Sweden, but using apps is one way for doctors to encourage patients to self-report unusual moles, all the while avoiding lengthy office waits. Patients participating in the program only need to schedule appointments or follow-up procedures if recommended by their doctor.

A similar app, AirStrip Cardiology, is available worldwide. Doctors who use it are able to immediately download patient EKGs to their smartphones, allowing them to make judgments and give instructions from wherever they happen to be. “Even if you’re not at home, you can quickly pick up your phone, view the EKG, and take care of patients remotely,” Dr. Shaival Kapadia, a Virginia-based cardiologist, told iMedical Apps of the program. “The nurse runs the EKG, processes it, and instantly it’s pushed to your phone. That’s huge because that determines whether I rush to the hospital to take care of this patient, or whether it’s something that the ER can handle.”

The helpfulness of medical apps also extends into the field. Global public health initiatives in many developing nations are making use of new phone-based programs to bring medical care to underserved communities. MedAfrica is one such app. Armed only with a cell phone, health workers can use this app to transmit and record patient data, log infection rates and symptoms, and beam information to practitioners either at home or abroad. Individual patients are also using this app to receive updates on their own conditions, and get in contact with local care providers.

As with all things medical, nothing about the healthcare app revolution is foolproof. Critics are often quick to raise concerns about patient privacy, and developers often struggle to comply with the disclosure laws of the jurisdictions in which an app could be sold or used. Nascent technology is never completely accurate, either, causing many to wonder if machines aren’t beginning to do much of the thinking doctors used to be relied upon for.

In most cases, though, the benefits of mobile technology in healthcare outweigh the risks. Mobile health developments are only going to get more accurate as time goes on, and embracing them now can be a great way to work out kinks and prepare for a future in a truly modern medical landscape.

About the Author

Charlotte Kellogg is a writer and researcher for¬†http://www.publichealthdegree.com/¬†whose primary interests are technology’s potential contributions to¬†public¬†health¬†and the ways in which technology is changing education. When she isn’t behind a screen writing, Charlotte prefers to be outside and on her bike.

 

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Michael Spitz , known most often as just "Spitz," is Editor-in-Chief of the Pixels & Pills and a prollific tweeter, blogger, and article writer, active in digital health across all specialties. Follow him @SpitzStrategy.

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