Opinion and Forefront

MYERS: Monitoring health with an iPhone

October 13, 2012

Woodrow MyersI did not wait in line to get my new iPhone 5; I ordered it online and it arrived exactly when they said it would. The battery was charged when I got it out of the package, and it took all of about 10 minutes to transfer (using the “cloud”) all of the stuff from my antiquated iPhone 3GS.

By upgrading to the new phone and operating system, a whole new world of medical tools has instantly become available.

Blood pressure: Now there is a device and an application that permits the patient to place his/her arm in a blood pressure cuff, tap the screen, and operate the cuff to take the measurement and store it in the smartphone every day (or multiple times a day). So for patients trying to get their blood pressure under control, or who may be trying new medication, it is a great way to track efficacy and provide your doctor a record to evaluate.

Diabetes: There is now a glucose meter that attaches directly to your smartphone. Prick you finger (with a very small needle that can hardly be felt), touch it to the strip, and the phone takes over, recording the date, time and glucose reading effortlessly—no pen or paper required!

Radioactivity: Planning a trip to Chernobyl? Turn your smartphone into a Geiger counter with a new app that uses the camera to analyze gamma radiation exposure. The technology is sensitive enough to quickly detect dangerously high levels of radiation and it can also be used to collect data over time from weaker radioactivity sources.

Congestive heart failure: It is a serious disease, often requiring expensive hospitalizations. Wireless broadband tools now allow in-home daily monitoring of patients with CHF. These tools will collect and transfer critical data, such as weight, blood pressure, activity and other important health indicators, and transmit the data to nurses following patients from afar. The information is sent daily and enables doctors, nurses and patients to manage CHF.

Medical images: Whether it is an MRI, a CT scan, nuclear medicine scan or an old-fashioned EKG or plain old X-ray, you can now save these images on your smartphone and take them with you—whether to seek a second opinion or if you simply go on a vacation. They are then immediately available to any health care provider you choose. Forms, faxes and delays are now obsolete.

Obesity: Dozens of apps will let you know the caloric value of each meal (some will use a picture you take of your plate and estimate the calories), and will track your daily calories to warn when you are about to exceed your goal. Others will tell you where you are with carbohydrates, fats and protein, while others will precisely measure your physical activity, calculating your caloric burn (while you listen to your favorite workout music).

Pediatric ear infections: Experienced parents know that a child with a sniffle waking up crying at 2 a.m. tugging on an ear is never a good thing. Parents may soon be able to skip the doctor’s visit and receive a diagnosis without leaving home by using a clip-on attachment and software that turns a smartphone into an otoscope. Today, pediatricians diagnose ear infections using their otoscopes to examine the eardrum. Why not use yours instead to take a picture or video of your child’s eardrum and send the images digitally to your physician?

There are many more tools available, with many more to come. I am letting the IRS know today I am going to deduct my new iPhone 5 twice—as a business expense (as a physician) and as a medical expense (as a patient).•

• Myers is a former chief medical officer for WellPoint Inc. and served as health commissioner for Indiana and New York City. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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