- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Computers and technology have brought many interesting ideas to medicine. Now it has gone a step further. Medical apps for smartphones and tablets look to be the next step technology is taking to inform patients.
It clearly has its merits but must be approached carefully and cautiously. The question whether it is safe and reliable remains to be answered. There are tens of thousands of medical apps evolving as we speak, including monitoring blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, and pregnancy progress. Diagnosis can be made by organ systems, patient symptoms and also by disease name.
These companies are businesses that are actually redefining patient care. This is not a completely new idea. Years ago, there were phone and Internet services in which you could partake and get a second opinion. In those settings you could actually interact with a human being.
Now it is a do-it-yourself type of service. There is some question whether the information being put forward and available to patients is FDA approved. This new form of health care opinion raises a lot of questions about accuracy and liability. One wonders if it undermines the doctor-patient relationship.
Prior to a year ago, this technology was fully unregulated, but the FDA has drafted some guidelines and rules and regulations to be followed. Some medical app developers are angry. They claim regulators like the FDA could slow the progress and development down. Typically, the FDA takes months or years to approve devices, but it is a very important safeguard for the populus.
Medical app developers claim that technology moves much quicker and that they would be stifled. Somewhere in the middle is the right answer. All medical app developers must stand by their claims and produce accurate information and not exaggerate the outcomes and results.
In theory, it is a nice compliment to having your traditional primary care doctor to answer questions for you, but would you want to rely completely on a smartphone to diagnose your problem? You still have the issue of being treated. A smartphone has not been able to pull that one off! Medical app developers maintain that they are not trying to replace medicine but are trying to improve the way health care is delivered and provided.
There is clearly a market out there and it is very appealing, especially to busy people who are pressed for time. This service could save some time and money. Apps typically run about 99 cents to $5.
This technology probably will be helpful for minor issues and answer questions so that patients can take care of themselves, but for more complicated issues, you still want to be able to interact with the doctor.
Also, the question remains that when a patient has vague symptoms like, “I don’t sleep well. I am achy. I am tired. I don’t feel right. I don’t feel good.” This could leave diagnosis wide open, and I am not sure a smartphone and medical app could sort through those things. This is the type of thing doctors are better at sorting through.
Diagnosing and treating without being examined happens in some instances. Patients who have an established relationship with their doctor sometimes call nights and weekends and are able to get some medication and relief of their problem, but with this new technology doctors will have to be careful not to get talked into diagnoses based on the patient’s smartphone and implement the wrong treatment.
As always, we are talking about lots of money involved here. The market for medical apps is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, very tempting for unscrupulous persons. The market will likely explode and will probably be such a large segment that the FDA will have their hands full.
Monitoring and checking the growth of these medical app developers and their companies is important in keeping them accountable for their actions. I understand that we advance in society and we live a very fast-paced life and we want instant results and gratification, but this could come at a cost and we need to be careful. This concept is very exciting but needs controls, checks and balance of growth and ability to protect the public from dangerous and erroneous outcomes is imperative.
Denis Grillo, D.O., FOCOO, is an ear, nose and throat specialist in Crystal River. Call him at 352-795-0011 or visit CrystalCommunityENT.com.