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Are Smartphones the New Doctors?

Smartphones may soon allow you to carry your very own portable health clinic right in your pocket. That’s the opinion of Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist convinced that smartphone technology is the future of medicine.

One day Topol was flying to San Diego when another passenger started having bad chest pains. He hooked an AliveCor device onto his phone, did a cardiogram, and confirmed that the passenger was having a heart attack. He advised the plane to land immediately and walked away from the flight with an understanding of the power of smartphones to revolutionize healthcare. MSN reports:

 “These days, I’m prescribing a lot more apps than I am medications,” he continued.

Topol points to a growing number of apps and devices, none of which he is paid for using or endorsing, that are capable of measuring vital signs and then transmitting that data to smartphones. Whether it’s your blood sugar levels, your heart rate or your sleep habits, Topol believes we should track our own conditions through our phones and use that data to see patterns and warning signs of illness.

If Topol is right, this is a big deal. Smartphone “clinics” could allow us to radically personalize medicine, mapping people’s immune system, heartbeat and vital signs to precisely target any illnesses they may have. As Topol points out, this would not only improve care, but save the costs associated with one-size-fits-all medicine, eliminating the need for annual mammograms and other “mandated mass screenings.”

Whether or not smartphones have the full effect Topol predicts they will, technology is going to reshape our health care. One way or another, innovations will make care cheaper and better than we can imagine. It’s up to us to build the infostructure for a more open-ended consumer-based healthcare system that can absorb and respond to these new technologies and take advantage of their revolutionary potential.

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