The Digital Doctor’s Office

Using consumer technology to track your personal health.

In this day and age, some of the easiest and most innovative health-tracking tools on the market are already in your pocket. With new consumer-facing health technology constantly being developed, refined, and introduced to the devices we use every day, managing your personal health has become easy and intuitive. Even the most widespread medical conditions can be conveniently managed from smartphones.

According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of Americans were afflicted by heart disease in 2016. And heart issues don’t discriminate; according to the Center for Disease Control, heart-related illness is the leading cause of death in the United States, regardless of race or gender. When it comes to heart health, new technology can literally be lifesaving.

Since 2015, Apple Watches have come standard with apps like Fitness Tracker and Activity. Fitness Tracker shows your exercise statistics in real time, including time elapsed, distance traveled, and heartbeat. Activity tracks your movement and steps throughout the day and prompts you to stand up if you’ve been too sedentary.

State-of-the-art apps are constantly being developed to help consumers monitor their health.

State-of-the-art apps are constantly being developed to help consumers monitor their health. In a new feature, the Apple Watch can now monitor its wearer’s heartbeat for signs of atrial fibrillation, or AFib. AFib is a common type of arrhythmia, or irregular heart rhythm, during which the upper chambers of the heart beat out of sync with the lower chambers.

If left untreated, AFib can lead to heart complications, including blood clots, which can cause a stroke, or even heart failure. People who experience AFib or other types of arrhythmia can use the Apple Watch’s function to monitor and track any episodes of irregular heartbeat. They can see how their heart is beating with just a glance at their wrist.

The most important benefit the Apple Watch’s monitoring gives AFib patients is the ability to measure heart activity over a long period of time. Arrhythmia does not always occur during a doctor’s office visit, and without an accurate picture of a patient’s heart trouble, doctors may face challenges in creating the right treatment plan.

Think of your heart like a car. It may be having problems sporadically, but if you take it to the mechanic and the problem isn’t apparent, it’s hard for the mechanic to diagnose and fix it. Having long-term heart rhythm information from the Apple Watch can help you and your doctor formulate a personalized plan to treat your arrhythmia.

[To read more of  Dr.Ram Dandillaya’ s thought leadership click here]

Beyond Apple’s proprietary technology, the phone in your pocket also holds the key to tracking other common health issues.

Researchers at the University of Toronto recently tested a new app that uses a smartphone camera to estimate a user’s heart rate. The process, called transdermal optical imaging, involves taking a selfie video. The smartphone projects light, which reflects red off the hemoglobin proteins travelling through the venous system of the selfie-taker’s face.

A public version of this app, called Anura, is already changing lives. A two-minute selfie video allows Anura to track the blood flow patterns in a human face, something that is normally invisible to the naked eye. The app then provides information about resting heart rate and stress level gleaned from the selfie video. Anura’s creators hope to eventually extend the app’s capabilities to accurately estimate blood pressure from a selfie video.

Some tech companies are also developing their own user-friendly hardware that integrates with the devices consumers already own.

AliveCor first released a mobile heart rate monitor in 2012. Today, they produce a state-of-the-art mini EKG monitor called a Kardia that pairs with most smartphones. By simply pressing their fingers to the pads of the business card-sized monitor, users can get an accurate EKG in 30 seconds. The results are then displayed on their own smartphone via Kardia’s app.

Kardia’s EKG has sophisticated six-lead monitoring and can detect AFib and other specific types of arrhythmia. Users can also save the EKGs to their smartphone and email them to their doctor with the click of a button.

This portable EKG makes it much easier for heart patients to keep track of their heart health on their own terms. It also enables them to easily present their doctor with documentation of any heart events they experience. Doctors can spot the warning signs of heart problems earlier and update treatment plans based on the information Kardia provides.

Even doctors are finding that smartphone technology and new medical devices can help them diagnose their patients.

One such example is medical tech company Butterfly. The company has developed an ultrasound probe with the same name that links directly to the iPhone. The miniature probe attaches to the phone through the lightning port and shows ultrasounds in real time. With just the single Butterfly probe, users can emulate any type of traditional ultrasound transducer, including linear, curved, or phased. The Butterfly effectively does the work of three different probes in one device.

The Butterfly also uses a single silicon chip, which is much more cost-effective than the traditional piezoelectric sensor used for ultrasounds. A hospital ultrasound can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $75,000. With this technology, a single Butterfly ultrasound probe costs less than $2,000.

The mobility and ease of use of the Butterfly probe is life changing. Doctors can get ultrasounds anytime, anywhere. This leads to quicker diagnoses and care in emergency situations. The portability of the Butterfly ultrasound probe also makes it essential in rural areas without properly equipped medical rooms. Butterfly has already made a great difference in impoverished and difficult-to-access communities worldwide, where a doctor can easily scan and diagnose medical issues with just a smartphone connection.

Beyond the realm of existing tech, researchers are already exploring artificial intelligence as a solution to modern medical problems.

[For more on Atelier Health’s approach click here]

Companies like Apple, Google, and IBM are looking to apply deep machine learning and complex smart algorithms in medicine and health. They hope to identify and solve complex medical cases that can be difficult or even impossible to solve via traditional medical routes.

Using artificial intelligence, researchers can import and analyze the data from a patient’s electronic medical records. When run through an intelligent algorithm or pattern recognition program, the data can be processed much more quickly than by human analysis. Using these tools, researchers can quickly find diagnoses and solutions to even the most difficult medical cases.   

Strides in technology and global connectivity have given rise to a new age of quick, accurate, and mobile solutions to the world’s most pressing medical problems. These new consumer technologies make it quicker, easier, and more painless to look after your health, no waiting room required.