We learned this week that 87% of the global population are mobile phone users. Furthermore, 31% use their phones to look for health information. The number of health related apps available to mobile phones has increased exponentially, with weight loss and fitness apps leading the charge. We can also access all social media through our phone, in fact many of the platforms, such as Instagram are built specifically for use on the mobile phone. Social media gives us access to billions of pieces of information and connects to health experts around the world. But, you have heard of all these ways to use your cell phone before, so what’s new?
Telemedicine: You have heard of blue tooth scales that record your weight and send it to your phone. You may have even heard of blood pressure monitors that track your blood pressure overtime and send you graphs of your progress in keep blood pressure low and stabilized. But, have you heard of a program that collects and aggregates all of this data and sends it to your doctor to make responsive decisions about your health without you even having to go into the office?
Telemedicine is the breakaway star of mobile phone usage. There are so many uses and new ways to monitor, upload, and transmit important health information in real time to your doctor. For example, if you are a congestive heart failure patient, weight is an extremely important indicator of cardiac events. Your weight increases significantly, and very quickly, if you are on the verge of having a cardiac event, because your body begins to retain water. If your doctor had knowledge of a spike in weight, they could provide an effective intervention in time.
Telemedicine can also use mobile phones to connects specialists to patients that might not have access to them in any other circumstance. Some patients cannot travel for health reasons, others cannot travel because they do not have the means. But, telemedicine can instantly connect doctor and patient. Health information can be collected at a local clinic, sent to the specialist and then a consultation can take place via facetime, skype or other means of face to face mobile communications. This is one step towards improving the equitability of care, offering patients access to providers they normally wouldn’t have access to.
With such a powerful tool, literally, at our fingertips, we as public health professionals should be capitalizing on this knowledge and working on connecting community members with clinicians. If prevention is the cornerstone of public health, than telemedicine should be incorporated into public health campaigns that monitor variables such as weight, and blood pressure, and use that information to help change behaviors before serious consequences occur.
- Shirky, C. Here Comes Everybody, Ch. 11.
- WHO (2011). mHealth: New Horizons for Health through Mobile Technologies (Links to an external site.). Global Observatory for eHealth Series.