February 18, 2014

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Take One Tablet

When Your Mobile Device Becomes a Medical Tool

By Dan Sorensen

February 18, 2014

“A study found that eAsthma Tracker reduced healthcare costs by well over $2,000 per year per patient because readmission rates, when compared to those who did not use the app, dropped marginally,” says Langell. “The app gives people with asthma the ability to track and understand their symptoms and prevent exacerbations that lead to hospitalizations.”

The Center for Medical Innovation also helped create an app called GermWatch in conjunction with Primary Children’s Medical Center. The app connects doctors in the same area, allowing them to track illnesses and better manage population-based diseases. Patient symptoms and diagnoses are shared, meaning doctors can better understand and treat trending illnesses.

Eventually, the app will allow all members of the community to compare their symptoms with community trends, possibly saving visits to the doctor.


Tools of the Trade

Ultimately, medical apps and other technologies of this caliber are meant to better the lives of patients. In the coming years, they will grow more common and useful as they are integrated into the other technologies, systems and devices that are already a part of our lives.

Many are concerned about privacy issues and their personal information, but all medical apps should incorporate security measures that guarantee maximum security. Orca Health and the University of Utah’s Center for Medical Innovation take the extra measures to ensure data security—however, they caution that many smaller developers do not.

Currently, healthcare apps are not regulated by the FDA, but that will likely change in the coming years as more doctors and patients adopt these technologies. Until then, it’s best to take precautions and check with your doctor about any concerns you might have. 

The Anywhere/Anytime Doctor

For people living in rural communities or other areas where medical treatment is not easily available, telemedicine is becoming a valuable tool that allows doctors to treat some patients using video conference technology.

While telemedicine using videoconferencing technology is relatively new, telemedicine concepts have been in use for years through two-way radios, telephones and other communications tools.

Today, services like Skype, GChat and FaceTime have taken telemedicine to the next level. However, most commercial applications are not compliant with the HIPAA patient privacy laws, so developers are creating their own telemedicine technologies.

“We use a product of the University of Utah called TeleStroke,” says Sara Phillips, quality program director at Jordan Valley Medical Center and Pioneer Valley Hospital. “Telemedicine is beneficial to rural hospitals that do not have access to specialists. It allowed us to develop and build our stroke program at the same time as we expanded our medical staff.”

Time is of the essence during a stroke, as each hour to being treated means more brain tissue cannot be saved. Jordan Valley Medical Center’s telemedicine program allows patients in rural areas to undergo evaluations by neurologists, making more immediate diagnoses possible.

While the inability to administer treatment could be a telemedicine limitation, Jordan Valley Medical Center overcomes this by having ER doctors onsite in rural areas to administer treatment.

Slow internet connections could also be a limitation, but as fiber internet—like Google Fiber, which is now available in Provo—becomes broadly available, the latency issues created by poor connections will slowly diminish.

Perhaps one day, telemedicine will allow skilled surgeons to operate on patients around the world using robotic surgical systems.


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