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Smartphones and healthcare

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Already smartphones, from iPhone to Android, are playing a key role in our health and they’re going to play an even bigger role.

Smartphones today are packed with all kinds of sensors, advanced software and cameras that are getting better every day, including many smartphones that use LiDAR (Light emitting Radar) such as that found in the new iPhone 12 Pro and coming to other smartphones. If you have an Apple Watch then you’ve got yet another health device that can connect with your iPhone for even more health monitoring.

Right now, most smartphones can check your blood pressure, monitor heart rate and in some cases with a smartwatch, monitor your blood oxygen level (Apple Watch only for now.) But the uses for healthcare are developing rapidly. One app from skincare company Marianna can look at blemishes and skin conditions and recommend products. They use Artificial Intelligence to analyze photos.

This goes beyond skincare for beauty though. A 2017 study in the United States found that there were 526 dermatology related apps for smartphones alone! One service called iDoc lets you upload a photo of your skin, fill out a quick questionnaire and has a specialist get back to you for consultation and it’s available to Canadians. They found that over 70% of cases they examined were harmless and easily treatable.

What about other conditions? Remember the Tricorder from Star Trek that the doctor would rave over your body and it would detect things at a molecular level? Well, yes, people are working on that! And they’re making good progress. Already, smartphones can detect minute motion, light, sound, distance and altitude (even just going up and downstairs) so adding a spectrometer that can look deeper isn’t as far-fetched as it once seemed.

One company, Trinamix, already has a device that can do deep spectrum analysis across a number of industries, from food inspection to gas sensing, even in human bodies. While they don’t have a smartphone application yet, it’s coming. WellDoc can help monitor diabetes and is developing their platform for other chronic conditions, and it’s FDA approved.

For the immediate future, many of these apps will send images and sensor collected data to physicians and specialists, where diagnosis can take place by a trained professional or in conjunction with Artificial Intelligence software. For Artificial Intelligence to work well, it needs a whole lot of data, on a massive scale. So the more people use these apps, the better the software will be.

Such uses of smartphones can be very helpful in a time of pandemics so healthcare providers can monitor conditions remotely, saving patients the risk of going to a doctor’s office or hospital. Even post-pandemic this will be helpful by reducing wait times, escalating patient issues accordingly and reducing travel times as well and letting doctors focus where they need to.

As healthcare systems incorporate digital health records which can be easily and securely moved between doctors offices and hospitals, mixing in the use of smartphones and smartwatches along with smarthome devices, our healthcare system is going to change. And it may very well be for the better. Our smartphones are becoming ever more important in our daily lives beyond just texting and social media. 

An important aspect of this rapid evolution in healthcare is ensuring that those without the means to buy expensive smartphones that are already over the $1,000 mark have access to these services as well. The digital divide economically is already a challenge for education and giving humans equal access to information in this digital age.

More Insight: Check out more on this topic on the rise of personal health technology

Author: Giles Crouch is a digital anthropologist who studies online society and culture through netnographic research and writes on the intersection of humans and technology. He is also Group Publisher for HUM@Nmedia, the parent brand for Silver Magazine.

Image courtesy:  Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash

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