It is not uncommon in German hospitals to read a sign that tells you to turn off your mobile phone upon entering the premise. The danger is considered too high that the electromagnetic waves of the cell phone could interfere with the life-sustaining medical devices.
The irony in this is alarming: Not only is the NO CELL PHONE sign one of the symptoms of our out of date and doomed approach to medicine. It is also showing our ignorance to finally using mobile devices as the medical devices that they could actually be. (US hospital staff constantly use their smartphones even in the recovery room).
We use our smartphones as a phone, a mailing device, a camera, a calculator, a GPS, a television, a music player… and we still ask ourselves how we can make modern medicine more cost-effective, more patient-centered and less time-consuming for all stakeholders without considering the application of our cell phones?
The US Health Network that I’m currently volunteering for includes an internal medicine practice. For each patient it takes approximately 10 minutes to ask them for their allergies, their current pain, to measure all their vitals signs (temperature, pulse, blood pressure, oxygen,…) and ask them about their smoking habits. If 50 patients are treated every day that makes 500 minutes. For one day. For one US practice. The nurses could use this time well to do more of the doctor’s work and actually take care of the patient.
After all this data is written down on a paper, it is handed to the secretary who enters it in a local computer system that only this certain practice can access. That takes another 10 minutes and the doctor does still not have access to the data. That adds up to 1000 minutes for one day and one practice. Writing letters and organizing appointments, the real tasks of the secretary, need to wait.
A three step solution to this problem and an inspiration of what future medicine will look like:
Step 1: Patients should regularly take their vital signs – at home, not twice a year when visiting their general practitioner
You have probably already seen one of these:
Honestly I don’t think that these fitness bracelets are worth buying at the moment. However, they are already able to track your heart rate, your oxygen level, your sleep and an approximate for your calories burnt. That already covers many of the vital signs that nurses have to measure in a time-consuming procedure.
Pretty soon tracking devices like bracelets or watches will allow patients and doctors to analyze the vitals signs of long periods like weeks and months instead of having one single measurement twice a year. It is only a matter of time that wearables devices will be able to track blood pressure, blood sugar and much more. That will make it much easier to develop therapy plans for diabetes, sleep disorders, high blood pressure etc. on an individual base.
Step 2: Patient data should be saved in a safe cloud network instead of a local network running Windows XP
Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP in April. Nevertheless a huge share of the computers in our healthcare system run Windows XP. Patient data is one of the most sensitive information in our society and should continue to be well protected. Saving it in the local network of your general practitioner makes it vulnerable to hacking attacks and is absolutely inefficient since other stakeholders like your specialist doctor don’t have access to it.
Patient data has to be outsourced to a professionally managed cloud network. The patient should be able to manage this data and decide who is allowed to look into it, instead of the doctor saving it without giving the patient the ability to manage this data.
Step 3: Connect everything and eliminate redundant data
Once we are able to have the patients’ vital signs measured by a mobile device and also have the technology to save the data in a cloud accessible by the patient we’re able to save the whole 1000 minutes mentioned above. The patient will enter the building of his doctor having already entered his allergies, his smoking habits and his current pain into the cloud system using his smartphone or tablet. There will be a large record of the patient’s vital signs since his last visit, making it unnecessary for the nurses to take his vital signs.
Thinking this idea further, the patient will have the possibility to grant his specialist doctor, his insurance, his personal trainer, his children and parents access to this data, releasing the healthcare system from tons of gigabytes of redundantly saved data.