There’s An App for That on Your Smartphone

July 1, 2015 - The health care frontier is going through a revolution as a result of computer technology. The way we obtain information about conditions or diseases which are of personal interest, has changed dramatically due to the ability of all of us to navigate the internet. Of the one million plus apps for smart phones, there are thousands related to health, healthcare, medications, and disease. 

No longer is there information inequality, where the physician or care-giver has a monopoly on knowledge. Any literate person with internet access can learn most anything—from diagnosis, treatment and prognosis, to side effects and complications—about a medical subject of interest to him or her. There are programs which can give you an accurate assessment of your physiological age and your life expectancy. Just check out

And you can be location agnostic which means that you can obtain information no matter what kind of digital device you have—smart phone, iPad, laptop, or desktop. There are now more smart phones in the world than toilets, according to Dr. Eric Topol’s latest book, “The Patient Will See You Now.” Probably that is because almost no one shares their smart phone.

There are also many attachments which add a powerful set of tools. An “otoscope,” for example, which can be added to the camera portion of your smart phone and enable you to take a picture of someone’s ear drum, email the image in the middle of the night and have a quick diagnosis with a subsequent prescription emailed to your nearby pharmacy, and a visit to the emergency room is thus avoided.

Another attachment to a smart phone is a device which can evaluate your heart rhythm just by placing your fingers on the back of your smart phone. You can even email the rhythm strip to a computer for instant interpretation. This technology device is compact, quick, convenient and costs only a couple of hundred dollars for the device. After the first reading the cost of subsequent uses drops to near zero.

Dermatology has taken up the use of technology much the same way described above in looking at an ear drum. Take a picture of your rash or bump and email it to the dermatologist. Locally, one of our dermatologists is already providing this service at a cost less than a routine office visit. A minority of patients will need to follow up with an in-person visit, but most are done electronically. So far, insurance companies have been slow to cover these consultations but that is likely to change soon enough. Remember when we used to have little bank books with deposits or withdrawals recorded by the bank teller or taking camera film to the drug store to be developed? Now these practices are relicts of the past.

Doctor On Demand is a computer site where a person can Skype or FaceTime with a physician and present his/her medical problems. The Doctor On Demand internet advertisement: states that eighteen of the twenty most common problems for which patients go to an emergency room, can be treated by using this technology. Just share your complaint, allergies, medications, and a credit card to be billed—and you are quickly connected with a physician for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

We are just at the beginning of a revolution focused on “disruptive innovation,” which will turn the traditional manner of receiving care upside down. Home monitoring and “hospitalizations” at home—in your own bedroom, with telemetric monitoring—is now available. The technology has preceded our adaption. After all, we were able to monitor an astronaut on the other side of the moon in 1969, so knowing your vital signs from across town is not a big deal.

There is much more to come, with “apps” being just an early way to lead us to better care at a lower cost for all concerned. Stay tuned.

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Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.