Healthcare in the palm of your hand

Many of us carry our mobile phones around with us all day, everyday. We use them to text, scroll through endless photos on Instagram and watch viral videos on Facebook & Twitter.

But the small computer that sits in the palm of your hand can also unleash quite a bit of information about your health, both through in-built iOS or Android apps, but also from hospitals and manufacturers, who are realising the full potential of utilising a device that nearly everyone has.

This isn’t new technology though, mobile and bluetooth technology have been around for ages, but now advances in this technology are coming to fruition in an ever changing world of technology.

From a heart device perspective (pacemakers, ICDs etc), many manufacturers are harnessing the power of Bluetooth to connect and pair these devices to mobile phones and apps, that allow patients devices to be monitored throughout the day and giving patients a little more control in sending data from their device to clinicians in hospital. The use of mobile apps is a step away from having transmitters and boxes by the bedside, which would only work overnight to send the hospital data. Whilst these are still the mainstay of remote monitoring, the move to app based technology is exciting and can unlock more benefits for both patients and clinicians. 

Age isn’t a factor either. As I wrote a while ago, you should never underestimate the older generation and their use of technology. Many have smartphones, many are clued up on how technology works and whilst some may need a helping hand, once you’ve explained how it works, in my experience, many are pretty happy to continue and find it easy to use.

It’s not just heart devices that are moving towards mobile apps. We’ve seen on iOS and Android devices more facilities when it comes to general health. Both operating systems have apps that count your steps, can track and record calories burnt during a run or exercise and there are tons of third party apps that monitor different elements of health.

Not forgetting the recent additions to the Apple Watch, where users can measure their blood oxygen levels and record an ECG straight from their wrists.

Hospital Trusts are beginning to work with these big tech companies to bring more of their own healthcare information to patients, most notably through the iOS in-built ‘Health’ widget. Oxford University Hospitals and Milton Keynes University Hospitals are both participating in this and whilst it isn’t rolled out just yet, it aims to give patients greater information about their healthcare.

Apple also has an entire section on their website dedicated to how their products and services have been tailored in helping physicians care for their patients. Whilst the focus on the website and in the videos is very American, it does show you the scope of how technology has advanced in healthcare over the years and potentially how it can continue to grow in many years to come.

For Android users, you can find the Google Fit app in the Play Store, which has all the same functions that the iOS Health app does, minus the ability to see ECG traces and blood oxygen levels. The Google Fit App bases your goals and other attributes from the personal data you tell it, then marks it against guidelines from the World Health Organisation. If you have a smartwatch that’s compatible, you can also track your progress from your wrist.

Giving patients greater control about their healthcare through mobile apps does come with concerns, there is potential that it is open to misuse and patient education will be key in ensuring they understand how the systems work and how their privacy is protected.

This doesn’t, and shouldn’t, take away from the importance of face-to-face care. Being able to see a patient sat in front of you, to have a conversation with and to see how they’re doing physically, is still of vital importance.

There’s only so much you can see and gauge behind a screen, but most certainly a move into utilising technology for patients can only bring greater reassurance