It’s wild to think that in the future, we may have the ability to see a doctor in a virtual reality setting. We may even perform a full body scan from the comfort of our living room. We need to take a look at how mobile tools are improving modern healthcare.
There’s no doubt that science, technology, and thus medicine have evolved at a rapid rate in the past decade alone. Although researchers may still be struggling to find a cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s, or other serious ailments, the progress that has been made in the past 10 years has still been tremendous.
Oddly enough, our online lives and smartphones have had a major impact on how medical technology has evolved. Scientists and doctors have found ways to not only use mobile tools to their advantage but completely change the doctor-patient relationship.
Here are three ways in which mobile technology has improved and forever changed the healthcare sector:
If you’ve ever lived in a rural town, you may be familiar with how difficult it can be to visit the doctor. Driving, sitting in the waiting room, and waiting for the doctor’s verdict can take up an entire day. This can make the whole experience almost not worth the trouble.
However, those in rural areas aren’t the only ones struggling to visit a doctor’s office. There’s a whole portion of the population that has an extremely difficult time traveling, or simply cannot afford to visit a normal doctor’s office. How can doctors reach these patients to make it easier for them to receive treatment?
In the past few years, there’s been a rise in popularity surrounding a new phenomenon called “telehealth.” Telehealth utilizes video call services, monitoring devices, and other remote techniques to allow doctors the opportunity to give medical advice or prescribe medication to patients all around the country. All the patient has to have is a computer and internet access.
For those living in rural areas, this can cut out the time it might take to travel to see a doctor while still providing them with a quality experience. For those that can’t leave their home or afford to travel, this can provide them with discounted care, without diminishing the quality of service.
Telehealth has grown in popularity simply because it provides a valuable alternative for those that need it. However, it isn’t just for helping those with a seasonal cold. There are also advancements in mental health services (telecounseling) — providing those that are struggling with a valuable resource to seek out therapy or discuss medications. It removes some of the stigma that patients may feel if they visit a counseling office and provides them with the help they need while in a comfortable location (their home).
The laws and regulations surrounding telehealth are still changing — proving just how revolutionary and new this form of medical treatment currently is. However, telehealth has the unique advantage of removing barriers for those that need medical help but cannot obtain it. It is also convenient and cost-effective: something that the majority of patients in the United States crave in our current healthcare economy.
2. mHealth Tools
Along with the telehealth revolution comes a new era of healthcare applications for smartphones. Medical professionals have found a multitude of ways to utilize new technology in the past year.
According to an infographic provided by Maryville University’s Nursing program, mobile health tools (mHealth tools) can vary from an FDA approved EKG app (Kardia), to patient portals that allow them to communicate, ask questions, and schedule appointments with their physicians. Patients can also download apps that let them check and compare their symptoms; utilize smartphone attachments that can help them analyze urine samples for HIV; or perform blood tests for glucose levels, thyroid, liver, or kidney function.
Doctors have found that mHealth tools can provide them with constant, real-time data about patients. These mHealth tools combined with telehealth monitoring could allow patients to go home faster after having a surgical procedure performed. Additionally, elderly patients, those who are disabled, or those with a chronic illness that require regular visits with specialists, could turn to this new technology for continued monitoring of their condition, routine tests, as well as regular checkups with a physician. Doctors have also been able to utilize smartphone apps that remind patients when to take their medications or when they have an upcoming visit.
As mHealth tools become more prominent, there is growing concern among security professionals that patient privacy will be at risk. Many of the apps and tools utilized don’t provide proper encryption and are vulnerable to hackers. Additionally, some doctors worry that advances in mHealth tools will diminish the vital relationship between patients and doctors.
The growing momentum behind mHealth tools could mean that mobile apps are the doctor’s office of the future. The convenience and freedom mHealth tools provide patients and doctors far outweigh some of the more serious risks.
3. Mobile Gadgets for Health
Besides your smartphone, there are also connected devices that can help you stay healthy. The Maryville Nursing infographic mentioned that attaching special devices to your phone can help you analyze samples from both urine and blood tests. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of possibilities.
Surprisingly, virtual reality (VR) headsets are becoming popular within the medical field. Mental health physicians can utilize them to help patients overcome traumatic incidents. Physical therapists have also found success with VR headsets by providing unique exercises that stimulate injured muscles. They also allow patients the ability to learn a new exercise, walking, or lifting techniques that could prevent further injury. Although VR is becoming increasingly popular with the video gaming community, the advancements made among medical practitioners are more revolutionary.
Of course, there are also other devices, like mobile watches to monitor your heart rate. There are also devices specific to exercise that can help you stay fit — such as a “smart yoga mat.” Personal health monitoring has become easier in the past few years thanks to these new gadgets, but they also make it easier for doctors to suggest lifestyle changes to patients and for patients to maintain those changes.
But mobile gadgets for health can get even more futuristic in the coming years. The FDA is currently reviewing an application for a wearable device that eliminates chronic pain (the PainPod). There’s also a pending patent for a contact lens that can measure glucose levels in your blood. Who knows what could be invented next? But there is a growing interest in how technology, wearable devices, and mobile apps will affect the overall health of the world’s population.
The Bright Future of Healthcare Technology
Despite the risks that some of this new technology may pose, there is overwhelming evidence that our world needs it. Telehealth services only require internet access to provide healthcare worldwide. The mHealth tools can help doctors and patients continue on with their lives outside of the hospital. Health gadgets can be applied to every aspect of healthcare: from therapy to pain management.
The convenience, availability, and cost-effectiveness of all these new technologies are the driving force behind this new shift in healthcare. Only time will tell how these devices will forever change the health of the population.
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.