When Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla wrote an eye-opening commentary in January positing that computers, and particularly mobile health devices, could replace certain physician functions, it seemed a bit of a stretch.
But a new commentary published last week in the Huffington Post by social media and technology freelance writer Karthika Muthukumaraswamy made me think again. She writes about a host of automated options that are dovetailing nicely with patients' desire to be more in control of their own healthcare--and possibly interfering with the doctor-patient relationship.
What I want to know is: Are my readers nervous? Can an app that checks vitals, or even diagnoses disease, truly replace the physician at the bedside? Take a look at Muthukumaraswamy's summary of available online tools first, then tell us what you think.
- MIT is actually testing this concept: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a project--New Media Medicine--that's offering computerized information to patients and evaluating the effect of patients taking on low-level clinical tasks like monitoring their own blood sugars, checking weight and BP regularly, evaluating symptoms and even diagnosing their own non-critical conditions.
- Patients already are Googling their symptoms--and accessing reams of untested, unreliable information--long before they ever schedule a doctor's visit, Muthukumaraswamy notes. Her hope is that apps that can make patient's efforts clinically relevant by putting "together all of this data, check its reliability, create a consensus, and deliver it within the context of a patient's medical history and biographic and genetic information."
- Touchscreen technology is bringing smartphone diagnosis closer to the masses: They're still a few years off, as far as commercial availability, but researchers have created a host of apps that can diagnose certain diseases, like malaria, TB, and others, from field-drawn fluid samples. Many are designed to be delivered by (and to) relatively untrained field workers. It's only a short skip to the average home user.
- Public health officials are in favor, and pushing for just "self-testing personal devices will allow people to diagnose themselves for embarrassing illnesses, such as sexually transmitted diseases, thus helping treat and curtail transmission," Muthukumaraswamy says.
And don't forget: Some government agencies, like the U.K.'s National Health Service, are directing physicians to prescribe apps to patients, as a way to reduce costs and possibly improve care. NHS officials clearly indicated they wanted to reduce physician visits.
My personal take: Apps, plug-ins and mobile software won't ever replace physicians, but they certainly have the capability to take over low-level health activities, and may ease some of the ever-tightening physician shortage.
HIStalk Mobile's Travis Good seems to agree. His intriguing insights see the physician-app relationship as far more complementary than competitive. Apps can improve patient/physician communication, involve patients in their own care, and other positive improvements, he says.