The next time you go to the doctor don't be surprised if they pull out a smartphone instead of a stethoscope. New technology is bringing modern medicine into the digital age with hundreds of new apps that now let doctors see your medical records, cat scans, even track your habits on their phones or tablets.
It's part of an explosion of medical apps redefining how doctors treat patients, these technological tools— can track glucose levels for diabetics --- calculate drug dosages --or turn a phone into a portable ultrasound. Other apps let patients look at lab results, make appointment, or refill prescriptions.
"When the iPhones came out, everyone was snapping pictures and sending it to everyone else and I said 'wow, what if we could snap a picture of an ECG and transmit it,'" Dr. Lowell Satler, Director of Interventional Cardiology and Cardiac Catheterization Lab Operations at Medstar Heart Institute in Washington D.C., told FOX5.
Satler, with a little help from AT&T, invented "Code Heart" an app that lets a doctor on one end send tests like an echocardiogram or an EKG to the hospital or another doctor in a clinic using the camera on a smart phone, laptop or tablet.
It's sent on a secure encrypted network, in a matter of seconds. "The doctor can just take the web cam and point it right at the E-K-G and we can see it in real time," Satler told FOX5. Satler says the app will have pre-hospital uses as well, with paramedics able to send patient data to emergency rooms so they'll be ready when the ambulance arrives.
"If we know if somebody is having a heart attack, we can move our resources faster and more effectively," Satler told FOX5. "On the other hand, if someone is not having a heart attack to bring in a helicopter or bring in these specialized cardiac teams is a very expensive process so it allows us to triage quickly and effectively from a distance," he said.
Dr. Farzaneh Sabi, a OB-GYN with Kaiser Permanente in Rockville, Maryland, told FOX5 that medical apps are helping doctors make better decisions when it comes to patient care. "I have all of the medical history, labs, imaging studies, the whole entire medical record in one place," she told FOX5. "Because I have access to all that information it decreases the risk of me making mistakes," she said.
While it sounds as simple as snapping a photo and texting it to another doctor, there's a little complication called the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act. The landmark 1996 law required that transmitting of patient health records be protected, simply sending a picture with a patient's medical information through an unsecure network like cellular towers was a HIPAA violation.
So the technology had to wait until encrypted secure communications were available. But now, it's here, and for a busy mom like speech pathologist Barbara Correira -- juggling work, an infant and a two year old-- it's helpful having all that medical information in the palm of her hand, using Kaiser Permanente's app called KP.org. "I can access the appointments or change an appointment time or look up their
health records, or anything just with a touch of my finger," she told FOX5.
While the smartphone explosion has the potential to revolutionize medicine, there are still concerns over privacy. Deven McGraw, director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington D.C. based consumer advocacy group, worries confidential medical information could be compromised. Hospitals and health plans are required by law to protect patient privacy, she says, but the same doesn't apply to software companies that develop the apps.
"We have to address those risks so that we in fact create an environment where these technologies can be used safely and they can be used securely, they can be used without risk to patient privacy and confidentiality and we're not quite there yet," McGraw told FOX5. She says consumers need to know if medical app creators are selling information you put on your app.
"Are you going to be targeted for advertisements based on what kind of data you are storing in the app?" McGraw told FOX5.
The Food and Drug Administration has proposed rules for mobile medical applications that are expected to be finalized later this year -- but only for those that are used as an accessory to a medical device or where an attachment can plug into something like a smartphone making it a medical device.
There's also the risk from hackers, McGraw says. "Hacking into the device might cause a problem with the device that would make it malfunction, and give you say the wrong blood glucose level, that could be quite serious for you if you are a person with diabetes," she told FOX5.
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