Smartphones and apps move digital healthcare towards mainstream

The stethoscope is likely to remain one of the most important pieces of a doctor’s kit for the foreseeable future but in the digital healthcare sector of tomorrow it may look distinctly old fashioned. As we move towards the era of digital healthcare, apps, monitoring devices, Electronic Health Records and Personal Health Records will become part of the arsenal of tools available to the medical profession. Already medical dictionaries and reference books have gone mobile, with one in two US doctors using the medical reference company Epocrates on a frequent basis. (Epocrates, according to the company itself, is responsible for the avoidance of 27.1 million adverse drug events in 2012, based on data reported to the company by physicians.)

But what about the patient or general population? In this (huge) segment the smartphone device has immense potential to deliver services related to healthcare, and judging by recent announcements from two top tier handset manufacturers (Apple and Samsung), the mobile device could easily become the route through which important structural changes in the healthcare sector are realised. As “accountable care”, embraced in President Obama’s healthcare reform, spreads beyond US borders, communicating between the various stakeholders in the medical profession and outside it will become increasingly important - and the mobile device is a ubiquitous piece of equipment capable of carrying and transferring medical data from patient, to healthcare professional, to funding body.

That may sound fanciful, but Apple’s Healthbook is capable of tracking multiple healthcare data points: Healthbook has sections that can track data on bloodwork, heart rate, hydration, blood pressure, physical activity, nutrition, blood sugar, sleep, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and weight. Apple has also hired key staff to create fitness related services.

If it becomes widely adopted (it will come preinstalled on all future iOS devices, so it will…) then it is a short step to maintaining the data and passing it on to the medical profession- Ergo Healthbook becomes a Personal Health Record, one of the lynchpins for digital healthcare and accountable care to be realised - and hopefully without governments spending huge amounts on IT projects that never get off the ground. But that is another story.