The Future of health is in your Smartphone
When commentators talk about the ‘smartphone revolution’, they definitely aren’t exaggerating. By next year, over a third of the world’s population will own a smartphone. According to a 2016 survey by Deloitte, 31% of UK smartphone users made no traditional voice calls in a given week. It goes without saying that there are far more uses for the postmodern mobile, especially considering the popularity of apps.
People mainly use their phones for communication and entertainment, but new uses are currently being developed that will lead to even greater mobile disruption. What if your phone could save your life? We carry them with us almost everywhere we go, and they already store so much personal information. This has led to the concept of ‘medicalised smartphones’, which are smartphones equipped with medical apps and sensors that act as the initial point of call for health-related queries. What can these medicalised smartphones do, and how will they affect healthcare?
Smartphones are already used to take blood-pressure readings and perform electrocardiograms. A number of electrocardiogram apps have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and Americans can currently access on-demand, live-streamed doctor’s appointments via their smartphone for around $40. There are also mobile-compatible, wearable sensors that allow people to record and read their own medical data. The potential for medicalised smartphones stretches further than this however. One possible development could be mobile diagnosis, which will hopefully become more reliable than simply Google searching the symptoms of a common cold and (inevitably) concluding that you might die. Phone cameras are also a useful tool, as patients could upload photos of their symptoms to a medical app which could then advise them about what steps to take next. Smartphones are incredibly good at notifications, from calendar events to incessant upgrade messages. Supposing you suffered from serious hay fever, imagine if your phone could notify you when the pollen count was particularly high. You’d get a predictive warning that it might be a good time to take an anti-histamine. On top of this, smartphones could provide medics with vital personal information. If a man suddenly has a stroke in the street and their medical details could be securely accessed via their phone, then paramedics would know if they could have a certain medical condition or are taking medication. There are of course other ways to store medical info, but smartphones provide a far better alternative to many other options including bracelets and intrusive chips because so many people already carry them around already.
How will medicalised smartphones disrupt healthcare?
Smartphones have changed how society works in many ways, from communication to the way we access information. Medicalised smartphones are set to have a serious effect on healthcare as not only are they recording data – they’re interpreting it. The ability for an app or a sensor to diagnose a certain problem will reduce pressure on doctors and other medical professionals, but at the same time it will lessen the need for them. According to the Wall Street Journal, innovative technology won’t replace healthcare staff, but it was fundamentally alter the relationship between them and the people they look after. This is worrying for professionals, but not so much for patients. Medicalised smartphones will make a wealth of information available to consumers, giving more power to the patient. The healthcare industry is infamous for its long waiting lists and complicated administration, so enabling a patient to get an accurate diagnosis quickly would be an improvement in efficiency and therefore cut processing costs. As great as this is, the digitalisation of health also has negative side effects. For example, holding so much personal data into a medicalised smartphone makes it incredibly vulnerable. The rise of cybercrime has been blamed in part on the increasing number of personal devices, and adding even more data isn’t going to help the problem. There’s no consensus on this and it’s fair to suggest that data might be safer in the hands of the patient. For the most part, our prediction is that medicalised smartphones will be positively disruptive. It’s difficult to imagine that they would pose a serious challenge to medical institutions, as patients still need human nurses, doctors and surgeons to actually perform operations and check-ups despite increasing partnerships between medical teams using AI and robotics. But in the early stages, a medicalised smartphone may cut down waiting times, ease resources and help the patient find assistance quickly. However, team a medicalised smartphone with a door-to-door doctor-bot and it could be a completely different story.
Opportunities in a healthcare revolution. . .
Businesses across the board should pay close attention to the smartphone revolution. As is the case with all new innovation, there are challenges as well as opportunities for companies in the healthcare industry. The way to ride this wave seems to be integration – for example, the NHS might look to partner with a startup developing medical smartphone capabilities in order to access to valuable patient information. Of course, data provides another potential difficulty when it comes to adopting healthcare apps and sensors. How can we ensure that our personal information is secure, especially if it is sent to potentially risky apps? Any company looking to cash in on medicalised smartphones will have to convince consumers that their cybersecurity is steadfast.
Most people, at least in the Western world, carry their smartphones around like an extra limb. The ‘smartphone revolution’ has changed society in many ways, and the existing applications for healthcare are just the beginning. They may not kill off doctors, but medicalised smartphones will allow people to access knowledge about their own medical data. The relationship between medical professionals and patients is therefore set to change, even to the point that patients no longer need to physically visit a surgery or hospital. One key issue for consideration is the increased risk of hackers when personal devices hold even more data. . . especially important when it comes to sensitive information. Ultimately, it’s not difficult to see the potential for smartphones to become the first point of contact for medical advice and diagnosis. . . but at the same time, it’s also easy to forget that not everyone has a smartphone or can use one. In order for medicalised smartphones to see wider adoption, the usage of smartphones themselves will have to expand. At this rate, that’s unlikely to be a problem. We live in an increasing smartphone society, and the ever-increasing applications for mobile technology only serves to show this.
Will medicalised smartphones remove the need for face-to-face consultations? How else could smartphones be used to enhance healthcare? What barriers are there to wider adoption? Share your thoughts and opinions.