complementary medicine

Doctor in Your Pocket and On Your Screen

You’re out for a walk one day. Your phone buzzes. It’s an automatically generated text: “Go home and take your blood pressure medication.” Just wait until you have a doctor in your pocket or one on your screen.

According to a recent article in GIGAOM, researchers are working on making your smart phone really smart. Like save-your-life smart. UCLA scientists have a phone prototype that can monitor HIV and malaria and test water quality. The phone can light up a sample of blood, saliva or water and capture an image to help a doctor analyze the bad stuff in the sample. Epidemiologists in remote places could use their phones to monitor the spread of disease and alert public health authorities to direct resources where they’re needed.

Then there’s Aydogan Ozcan, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at UCLA. He’s created an attachment for a cell phone that transforms it into a microscope. Ready for a diagnosis on the road? “We convert cellphones into devices that diagnose diseases,” he explains, quoted in the New York Times. He’s formed a company called Microskia to bring the technology to market.

“This is an inexpensive way to eliminate a microscope and sample biological images with a basic cellphone camera instead,” Dr. Ozcan says. “If you are in a place where getting to a microscope or medical facility is not straightforward, this is a really smart solution.”

People are also getting medical advice from their computer screens. Google Insights for Search tells me that searches for “webmd.com” are up 800 percent. Of course, if WebMD.com recommends brain surgery I might seek out the opinion of a real doctor.

(“Look honey, here’s a YouTube video showing how to do that surgery yourself – you could save a bundle.”)

WebMD.com and Drweil.com can be useful, but they are one-way and not personal. That will change with on-line health management systems like those developed by DPS Health. (Disclosure: The founder of DPS Health is a friend of mine.) DPS Health offers an on-line system allowing health care providers to interact with their patients remotely, but personally, using email coaching, moderated chat and streaming audio lessons. Patients track their patterns of exercise and diet choices. Their health care professional monitors what’s happening and offers support. The company has an online program deployed now to help people lose weight and keep it off – helpful for managing diabetes. Based upon the National Institutes of Health Diabetes Prevention Program, Virtual Lifestyle Management (VLM for short) is less expensive than the NIH program because it’s not clinic-based, it’s online. Being virtual, it can potentially reach more people, at least if they have internet access.

There’s even a Microsoft-driven movement to get all your medical records on-line for easy access. It hasn’t really caught on yet because of privacy concerns. But the logic seems solid. On-line access to medical records streamlines care. More engagement with a health care coach might make you healthier. And everybody has their phone with them nearly all the time. Instead of checking on your messages, your phone could be checking on you.

Lee Schneider is creative director at Red Cup Agency.

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