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Looming technology set to bring enhanced point-of-care analysis

California-based Cardiologist, Dr. Eric Topol, was on a cross-country flight recently, where he was able to save a man’s life – with his smartphone.

A passenger was having chest pains and Topol, armed with a portable cell-phone powered device, performed a cardiogram mid-flight and confirmed that the patient was indeed having a heart attack. He recommended an urgent landing. The patient was rushed to the hospital and survived.

Topol says the smartphone will be the hub of the future of medicine. But the Jetsons told us we would be flying around in personal space ships by now, too. So will mobile health technology become a reality or something we just hear about on TV?

Thomas A. Thompson, M.D., a cardiologist with Vanderbilt Heart at Williamson Medical Center, says Topol’s belief in medical uses of technology is spot-on.

“Is using a modified iPhone as an EKG likely to have an impact on how we practice medicine in the future? I strongly believe the answer is an unqualified and unequivocal ‘yes’” Thompson said.

In addition to the portable EKG via the smartphone, doctors are already experimenting with glucose sensors for diabetics, vital sign monitors, and other mobile technologies that could allow real-time, remote viewing of statistics by both the patient and the physician.

“We don’t know at this point if these technologies will be integrated at various speeds into the practice of medicine as we recognize it today, or be so radically different in their application to patient care that they bring about entirely new paradigms of medical practice,” Thompson said.  “But they will bring change.”

He says part of how the technology is integrated will depend partly on the continued development and availability, willingness of providers to use it and the ability for this new technology to weave its way into practice patterns.

Another advantage according to Thompson is improved patient to provider communication. He says classic models of this connection have been one-on-one interactions, which will continue, but now communication from a distance can be done with high quality.

“Newer technologies can undoubtedly enhance easier connections between providers and patients,” Thompson said. “Not only is this likely, but we will be able to do this in such a way that we will all be better off for it, giving those seeking help quicker access to assistance and giving the providers more freedom and being less tied down to older institutional models of dispensing medical care.”

Thompson says he has seen several new smartphone and tablet technologies that are exciting and will enable a patient to have point-of-care analysis, even though it hasn’t reached the masses yet.

“There are ways now to do an EKG and have it sent real-time to your iPad,” he said. “We use this type of technology now, where this vital information is sent to the Emergency Department from an ambulance. If you could see some of the EKG quality we can see on an iPad or iPhone, it would knock your socks off.”

Thompson says this technology, once it is readily available and affordable, will change how a patient receives care.

“Hypothetically, this means that now the patient doesn’t have to wait for a technician to come and do a test. If I have what Dr. Topol has in my hands, I pop it on my iPhone, lay a sensor on the patient’s chest and read it. From my standpoint, I get a high-quality recording of rhythm, a good EKG and the patient doesn’t have to wait for a technician. Assuming quality-wise it works, the improvement won’t be felt by cardiologists as much as it will be for the patient.

Currently, if a patient calls in with some heart rhythm abnormality and the doctor doesn’t know what is causing it, the patient has to go to a physician’s office to have the heart rhythms interpreted.

“Think of the capability with new technology where in this situation, we are able to ask the patient to put a device on his chest that sends the information to my iPad. I am at home and I can look at it in real time. How powerful is that? Could it prevent heart attacks? Yes. Or it could arm us to say ‘this person is having a heart attack, get to the hospital.’”

Thompson says change of this type won’t be integrated easily, but it could allow providers, who reportedly will be fewer in number relative to the numbers needing care, to practice their profession with more efficiency and less duplication and waste.

“It should be well worth the effort,” he says. 

Thomas A. Thompson, M.D. is a cardiologist with Vanderbilt Heart at Williamson Medical Center.

Posted on: 4/15/2013

 
 

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