Smartphones Becoming Portable Clinics

Good news for senior health as improved functionality and sophisticated apps combine with smartphones to provide mobile, easy-to-use diagnostic tools.

As smartphones take several steps beyond their uses as pedometers, calorie counters or heartbeat trackers, (and did I mention phones?) their use becomes more and more relevant to the older set. For instance, according to Shwetak Patel, engineering professor at the University of Washington, mobile devices and tablets are becoming tools for diagnosis of illness.

“You can use the microphone to diagnose asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder),” Mr. Patel said. “With these enabling technologies, you can manage chronic diseases outside of the clinic and with a non-invasive clinical tool.”

Blood disorders such as iron and hemoglobin deficiency can be diagnosed non-invasively. “You put your finger over the camera flash and it gives you a result that shows the level of hemoglobin in the blood.”

The app, called HemaApp was shown to give similar results to non-smartphone devices for measuring hemoglobin without the annoying prick of a needle. The app is awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration for more widespread use.

Osteoporosis is another illness smartphones can be used to diagnose. The patient simply holds the phone with the app turned on, taps his elbow and the device gets to work.

“Your phone’s motion picture sensor picks up the resonances that are generated,” Mr. Patel said. “If there is a reduction in density of the bone, the frequency changes, which is the same as you will have in an osteoporosis bone.”

These apps allow patients to better manage their own care, minimize the requirement for seniors to travel to doctor’s offices, increases convenience and efficiency while lowering overall health care costs.

“Our tool becomes a personal support system,” said Elizabeth Mynatt, professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “They can interact to get day-to-day advice.”

Research has shown this approach “changes dramatically their behavior.”