Smartphone Apps Increase Patient Health and Awareness

Until recently, I didn’t realize the huge market on the App Store and Google Play (android marketplace) for apps to diagnose or track patients health. Of course there are the apps that help you count calories and perform yoga or other training exercises, the apps i’m talking about are the types of things you might go to a doctor for. I was amazed when I found out you could get an extremely accurate heart rate reading in about 10 seconds with your iPhone! There is a free app called Heart Rate by Azumio that tells you what your heart rate is in very little time. The idea is simple: you place your index finger over the camera with light pressure while the app turns the LED flash on. The camera then detects the slight change in color with each rush of blood into your fingertip to determine your heart rate. If you don’t believe me, try it! Get out your smartphone and take a video (with the flash on) of your index finger lightly pressed against the camera, you can actually see the color change in your finger (albeit sleight!). If you fork over a whopping $0.99, you can track an unlimited number of heart rates, along with a new feature that measures your fitness level. I think tracking your heart rate over a long period of time could be very beneficial to someone who really cares about their health. If your heart rate climbs over the course of a few months it may be a sign of an unhealthy lifestyle or too much stress.

Another app, also by Azumio, called Sleep Time uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to track your sleeping patterns, and wake you up at the ideal time (i.e. when you aren’t in deep sleep). So instead of setting an exact time for an alarm, you set a window and the app wakes you at the lightest part of sleep in that window. When awoken during the lightest parts of your sleep, you wake up feeling well rested and ready to go. You would normally have to go to a sleep lab to get this type of wake-up treatment! Sleep Time is actually a free app for a limited time (so of course I just downloaded it) but is usually $0.99.

A third type of health-related apps that I find interesting are mole examination apps. There are a number of apps on both iPhone and Android marketplaces that claim to accurately distinguish cancerous from non-cancerous moles. I read a few articles a month or so ago pertaining to these apps and if patients can trust them (an issue i’ll cover later). Some of these apps use computer algorithms to diagnose a mole that you have taken a picture of. These are the least accurate apps for correctly diagnosing a mole’s malignancy (as low as 60% accuracy from what I remember). Other mole checking apps use real dermatologists to diagnose your mole. There is one app called Spot Check that is free to download, but you pay to get each mole diagnosed individually. After taking a picture of a mole, within a few days a board-certified dermatologist will examine the mole and give you a recommendation as to whether you should follow up or not. From the article I read a while back, this app had over a 90% accuracy rate in determining mole malignancy. I think an app like Spot Check could be very beneficial to someone who is on a managed care plan that cannot get access to a dermatologist without prior approval. Heck, in the future this may be the way a beneficiary obtains prior approval! This could also cut your medical expenses in situations where you go see a dermatologist and the mole turns out to be benign…. waste of time and money!

All these apps are great, and there are many more out there I didn’t mention. Now as a student studying Health Information Management… isn’t this all valid information for your medical record!? Also, if you have an incorrectly diagnosed mole by a dermatologist on Spot Check, isn’t that grounds for litigation!? I’m not the only one who has thought of these issues because there Congress is currently (yes, this week!) holding hearings on the FDA‘s role in regulating health apps for smartphones. It will be interesting to see what comes of this and I will definitely write another post when the final ruling comes out, which may take some time.

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IBM’s Watson: Clinical Decision Making in Healthcare

I came across an article today that talked about IBM’s powerful thinking machine, Watson, and how “he” could be put to a practical use in the real world (aside from beating Jeopardy grand champions). One new possibility, which is already becoming a reality, is to have Watson help with clinical decision making in health care. According to IBM, only 20% of the knowledge physicians use to make their diagnosis and treatment decisions is evidenced-based. As a patient, that scares me. This means 80% of the physicians decision is based on intuition and prior experiences with somewhat similar cases. As a result of this, IBM states that 1 in 5 diagnoses are incorrect or incomplete. According to the Information Week article, this is the latest on Watson’s oncology learning diet:

Over the last year, Watson has been trained on more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence and two million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials in the field of oncology. Sloan-Kettering has added details on 1,500 lung-cancer cases, training the technology to interpret physicians’ notes, lab results and clinical research on specialized treatments based on the genetics of tumors.

All this information has been added to Watson’s brain in just the last year. At this pace, Watson will soon have every published medical journal, clinical trial, and fragment of medical evidence stuffed into his mainframe.

IBM has developed an iPad app that can be used to find the best cancer treatment pathway for a given patient. Watson takes into account everything in the patient’s chart, and the physician can add new complications or conditions to the patient’s chart right within the app (they don’t even have to type it, Watson can comprehend your speech!). A short video on IBM’s website gives an amazing overview of just how powerful this app can be when diagnosing patients and selecting evidence-based treatment plans. Watson even gives a percentage indicating the level of confidence he has with each answer. Here is the video showing how the Watson iPad application works. I think it’s awesome, and in the future will be an extremely useful tool for providers to assist in clinical decision making.