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Your Health on Your Phone?

Your Health on Your Phone?

Picture of Angilee Shah

When Dr. R. Jan Gurley (a.k.a. Doc Gurley) went to Haiti to provide emergency medical care earlier this year, it blew her mind that she could carry her entire medical library with her on her iPhone. "My entire medical library, including little videos of how to do really invasive procedures, is on my iPhone. I should be able to text, upload photos and even little bits of video with my iPhone," she told ReportingonHealth.

Smartphones are changing the way doctors and patients do business. The California Healthcare Foundation released a white paper this month which chronicles the revolution. Author Jane Sarasohn-Kahn reports that two-third of doctors and 42 percent of Americans had smartphones in 2009. Last February, there were 5,805 "health, medical and fitness applications" within the Apple AppStore, half of which were dedicated to medical reference.

If all this seems geared toward a high-end market, the report highlights the way that cell phones can actually reach underserved communities:

"While accessing the Internet via stationary computers is stratified by socioeconomic status, mobile search is not. African Americans are the most active users of the mobile Internet -- and their use of it is also growing fast.... Twenty-nine percent of African Americans use the Internet on their handheld on an average day, significantly great than the national average of 19 percent."

A Pew Internet and American Life Project report tells us that those with chronic diseases are less likely to have Internet access than those without, however 70 percent of those with two or more conditions still have cell phones.

The opportunities are great. Consumers and providers can benefit from learning opportunities on the go and FDA or CDC updates in real time. There are applications to help digitize notes and send lab results as they are available. Applications can monitor vital signs remotely and remind patients to take their medications. The report provides a myriad of mind-blowing examples of applications that can do things you might have never thought possible with a device you carry with you all the time already.

It also provides fodder for deeper thought about where all this technology is taking us. Are these applications designed for patients? Are potential profits or health needs driving the innovation? And should the FDA be regulating this market? Is it discriminatory for health providers to develop programs that are only accessible to people with smartphones?

You can read and download the 20-page report on the California Healthcare Foundation website. Hat tip to new media/public health guru Andre Blackman, who alerted me to the report. If you are covering (or living) this phenomenon, please share your thoughts in comments.

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