Monday, August 25, 2014

Is there an iPhone in the house?

Can you really use your phone to check your heartbeat and find out whether it's healthy?  That caught my attention when I heard a report on medical apps on WFAE last week.

Just a few days earlier,  speakers at the Charlotte Chamber's health care summit had talked about the huge number of health-related apps on the market and the likelihood that technology will play a growing role in consumer-driven health care.  The idea is that as regular people foot a larger share of the costs,  they'll rely more on technology to make decisions about medical needs and how to spend their money.

But I hadn't really grasped that my phone and tablet could be used for more than looking up information  --  or that health apps could be more than a fun gizmo to encourage fitness.

The recent Marketplace report by Lauren Silverman highlighted the increasing number of apps being marketed to diagnose serious conditions,  from macular degeneration to rheumatoid arthritis,   and the debate over how to monitor them. "Regulators are walking a fine line between letting snake oil salesmen roam free and discouraging legitimate developers,"  she reported.

The law professor who was quoted about using an app to record heartbeat and bowel sounds sounded a note of warning against letting apps substitute for real medical care.  The Food and Drug Administration reviews only the riskiest apps,  Silverman reported.

I'm healthy enough not to need much monitoring,  and old-school enough that if I want to hear my heart or digestive system I get out my father's stethoscope.  For those of you exploring the frontiers of smartphone health care,  what are you learning?