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The future of smartphones in digital healthcare

Over the last years, smartphones have become a valuable asset to medicine. Scholarly journals such as AMA Journal of Ethics, NPJ Digital Medicine, and BMC Medical Informatics cite studies on smartphones for digital healthcare where experts agree that the future stands with mobile devices for the industry: it’s applications for telemedicine, clinical monitoring, and diagnostic tools. Patients themselves become more active consumers of medical services provided via portable devices and start monitoring their clinical records regularly. Clinicians and patients use smartphones to get high-quality medical services remotely, immediately, and comfortably. This article will show how mobile devices in healthcare assist both in-hospital patients, people at home, and doctors.

How in-clinic use of smartphones can help doctors

Since 2012, new technologies continue assisting doctors. Up to 81% of US physicians use smartphones for their professional activities. For example, Eric Topol, MD, has suggested the use of mobile electrocardiograms (ECG) to diagnose arrhythmias. Emergency doctors acknowledge smartphones’ convenience for better access to electronic health records (EHR). Smartphones trace the visual and auditory representation of the collected data: there are applications that act as stethoscopes, but add a visualization of what’s happening in the lungs along with sounds and display graphs that convey trends over time about people’s blood signs or sleep habits; some can offer inner ear visualization data. Such 3D models help doctors to show their patients what is going on in their bodies and how it will be treated.

In-clinic use of 3D-models of the human body is another very promising software development field.

Scholars suggest that healthcare app development in both mobile and cloud environments will be the priority for drug prescription, chronic illness monitoring, fall-control, and other conditions as well as develop towards ever more efficient healthcare information system management.

In many cases, these features are life-saving for the out-patients who cannot attend clinicians due to COVID-19 lockdowns. There are also advantages for doctors during attending patients at home, as they don’t need to carry and use a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer (as all of them are on their phone); they can see multiple records on patient’s health history at hand and comprehend his state over the last days before the visit and can focus on meaningful dialogue instead of looking at computers.

The capturing of sonography for trauma (FAST) via a smartphone with a portable accessory by Mobisante literally saves lives as it allows the medical team to get ready for the patient's pre-arrival and timely estimate the operational risks.

Tablet-based visit scheduling and medical monitoring allow doctors to prioritize the attendance of those patients who need urgent assistance and plan their time via automated reminders.

So, smartphones within the hospital walls serve as portable databases, assistive measurement tools, and workflow regulators. Many doctors also actively use their tablets and smartphones to test various clinical software launched to the market and choose ones they can recommend to their patients.

Out-clinic use of smartphones: how they help patients

Similarly, mobile devices and apps for healthcare professionals help outside the medical wards. Individual smartphone users like tracking their healthy habits and monitor their goal statistics through gamification. At the same time, clinics and hospitals only benefit from regular patient data gathering. According to GSMA Identity, 80% of medical errors occur due to the absence of previous monitoring data and lack of data exchange between healthcare organizations, and life signs data and data about social determinants of health that come from patients’ smartphones help with that tremendously. Spain shared its experience with OpenCDE, an EHR database that can be utilized by doctors and patients alike. They keep developing the application and partner with network operators and emergency services. Therefore, the future of medicine and smartphones looks promising for the out-patients as well.

Continuous self-monitoring is another important trend. Today, millions of people wear smartwatches and like gathering personal data about their bodies. Demand for these portable devices has boosted health apps such as consumer monitoring, fitness trackers, prescription reminders, blood pressure, and pulse trackers, as well as sleep monitoring devices. FDA has created its 2020 Innovation Action Plan to certify medical trackers based on these dismantled multi-aspect apps and provide more guidance in the area. In the wake of COVID-19 pandemics, US patients could already benefit from this initiative as millions of medical records became digital and gathered into major EHR data systems. Thus, out-patients can currently use their smartphones not only to monitor any bodily function available to smartwatch sensors but also timely draw conclusions about the need for assistance and get immediate information on nearby treatment options and emergency help. The medical practitioners can timely attain full patient information, too, and thus prevent premature deaths. Thus, for example, early detection of infectious diseases in South Asian and African countries through automated symptom analysis via an Android app can save numerous lives among children under five years. As this market segment is currently skyrocketing, it will soon need software developers to build digital healthcare products.

how mobile devices are helpful for patients and doctors

Which areas of smartphone adoption remain underresearched

There are implications to smartphone adoption in both healthcare organizations and software development specialists in the industry need to consider, though. The majority of usage reports focus on the benefits of mobile devices in healthcare. Still, such limitations as rapid aging and costliness were not initially considered when smartphones entered the everyday clinical practice. According to the Digital Trends report, many of them still lack 100% compatibility with all expected devices and operating systems even now, which reduces their universality.

The cost issue is another factor requiring extra research. Glen Stream, MD of the American Academy of Family Physicians, asserts that spirometry applications address five chronic conditions impacting healthcare costs. Currently, oximeters, heart rate monitors, and inactivity reminders within fitness trackers compete with smartphones as medical assistants. Still, the research continues promoting the accumulating principle and consumers like having all the necessary features in a single application or database.

Preventive services are also under the focus of mobile-related research. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality ePSS app was created to address this application area. In-depth research for the patient's clinical awareness is required to find if mobile medical databases are clear and improve the patient's knowledge. Otherwise, the existing barriers between the patient's understanding and doctor's experience will intervene with the efficient clinical practice.

Moreover, not only smartphones but also accessories can serve as assistive diagnostic tools. According to Zaggo, single-channeled ECG embedded in the iPhone case may offer the same functions as pulse oximeter bracelets: When patients press their fingers to phone cases, the ultrasound captures images of carotid arteries. These findings demonstrate that smartphone-based medical devices might not be limited just by smartphones.

Conclusion

Conclusively, smartphones will have a bright future in healthcare.

They assist both doctors and patients in daily health monitoring and medical error avoidance. On the supply side, 3D apps and monitoring tools assist clinicians in diagnostics and rapid access to the patient's medical history. On the demand side, healthcare apps allow 24/7 remote personal monitoring of physical and mental state for the patient. This data can raise a patient's awareness and knowledge on first aid and preventive measures; it can be used to promote a habit for regular medical examination.

In addition, advanced software development for healthcare continues expanding the range of smartphone uses as medical accessories. Although smartwatches and other sensor-based devices can replace smartphones soon, all types of portable gadgets seem to effectively accumulate various useful features of the modern unified medical digital system.

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