Mobile technology, smartphone impact on healthcare sector

Ashutosh TiwariTuesday, December 4, 2018, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Mobile phones have dramatically changed the lives of billions of people. Millions of Indians in urban centres today have smartphones which they use for entertainment, for office work, to keep in touch with friends, and a number of other things too numerous to list. Excitingly the healthcare industry has kept in lockstep with the revolution brought on by mobile technology.

Many people in India today use mobile technology that allows a doctor to monitor their vital signs continuously and in real time. By continuously monitoring a person’s vital signs, a doctor or qualified medical technician can gather information and act in a timely manner when the patient’s vital signs deviate from a healthy norm. Mobile technology has also disrupted the healthcare sector in the following ways.

Monitoring patients with asthma
Doctors can monitor the symptoms of patients who are suffering from asthma by using mobile technology including smartphones. By continuously monitoring a patient’s symptoms, doctors and medics can accurately predict when or if a patient will suffer from a bout of asthma and treat the patient accordingly.

Monitoring and treating diabetics
A mobile device can be used with a smartphone to monitor the blood sugar levels of patients suffering from diabetes. Patients suffering from Type 2 diabetics are especially helped by such continuous monitoring.

General fitness training
 A number of fitness apps available on the app store and play store allow users to keep track of their daily calorie intake and help them eat a nutritious diet. Such apps can also be calibrated to allow users to lose weight or to eat protein in the right quantity to increase muscle mass. Users can also use such apps to monitor how many calories they burn while they exercise or go for a run.

Taking advantage of medical infrastructure
Smartphones can also be used to easily book an appointment with a doctor or to schedule a lab test and to access the results of lab tests online. Nearly all hospitals and clinics in large Indian urban centres make available the results of medical examinations and tests online. Not only does this save patient’s time, but it also allows them to keep their medical history safe for future use.
Other ways in which smartphones enhance healthcare are elaborated below:

Better monitoring of patient compliance
When a patient is discharged from a hospital and is asked to use prescription medication at home, there is very less opportunity for a doctor to ensure that the patient complies with the doctor’s advice. However, thanks to smartphones ,a doctor can monitor how well a patient is doing while at home and check whether the patient is having the medication as prescribed. Furthermore, smartphones allow hospital staff to ensure that a patient has understood the advice given to him or her. Put succulently smartphones facilitate better communication between a doctor and his or her patients by informing doctors if a patient has not understood the instructions given by the doctor. Such care is leading to higher recovery rates among patients and is lowering the rate of re-admission to hospitals.

Seamless data flow
Medical data must flow fluidly between doctors, lab technicians, nurses, patients  and other caregivers. Such a free flow of information is possible only through the use of mobile technology and smartphones. An advantage of such a free flow of data is that it makes medical records available at the push of a button on a hand-held device and obviates the need for physical documents. 

Regular monitoring
Before the advent of smartphones and wearable devices, doctors could only check a patient's vitals while he was physically present. However, because of the ease and affordability of data flows, doctors can monitor the health of a patients even when he is not physically present. Such monitoring allows a doctor to keep an eye on a patient’s vital signs when the patient is performing specific tasks such as exercising, working in an office, or even when he is sleeping.

Wearable mobile devices along with smartphones also allow doctors to evaluate the effect of medication on a patient and to simultaneously prescribe different medication if needed. While earlier such monitoring could only be done at a prearranged time when the doctor met the patient, today such monitoring can be done throughout the day. Such continuous monitoring allows doctors to serve  patients better than was possible before.

Eliminating routine and time consuming tasks
The use of mobile technology has made it possible for doctors to dedicate themselves solely to serve their patients. Whilst earlier many doctors had to perform routine and time-consuming tasks such as data entry, digital technology and mobile devices have largely done away with the need to perform such tasks. It was estimated that before the widespread use of digital technologies which allow information to be stored online automatically, doctors spent nearly as much time performing routine data entry work as they did examining patients. The elimination of routine tasks allows a doctor to examine more patients than he or she could earlier. Clearly, smartphones and mobile devices  has led to a better allocation of human resources allowing doctors to concentrate on their role while routine tasks are automated.  

A more accurate diagnosis
In addition to the advantages listed above, mobile devices including smartphones often allow doctors to reach a more accurate diagnosis when examining patients. This means that not only are doctors able to see more patients than they could before, but they are also able to more accurately diagnose patients.

A more accurate diagnosis is made possible because medical records are neatly stored online and handwritten prescriptions are easier to read and understand. Also, there are mobile apps available today that can automatically check whether a prescription is valid and suitable, reducing instances of prescription error. Finally, because smartphones are carried by so many people throughout the day they make it possible to identify the causes of numerous illnesses. 

Education made easier
Across many medical colleges in India, mobile devices including smartphones are transforming how the next generation of doctors learn. Bulky textbooks which students had to read cover to cover are being replaced by digital books that are saved on mobile devices. An advantage of these digitally stored medical books is that they allow students to search for specific information very quickly. Whereas a medical textbook may have demanded that students search across the book looking for specific information, digital books require only that a phrase or word be entered in the query bar and all the information relevant to the query is made available in the blink of an eye.

The next generation of doctors who are studying in universities today don't need to carry heavy textbooks or go back and forth from a college library while carrying heavy books. Today high-quality medical textbooks are available online which allows medical students to find all the information they need to become great doctors. Also a medical student today need not be confined to reading only books that are found in the library or books that are part of the course structure. Medical students today can get easy access to the latest information published in leading journals by using their smartphones. The easy availability of quality information has the potential to create doctors who are of a higher calibre than those in earlier generations. 

Smartphones allow virtual examinations
In a country as vast as India, everyone cannot have easy access to best doctors. Millions of Indians living in thousands of small towns and villages across India have little or no opportunity to be examined by a specialist practising in a large city like Mumbai or New Delhi. However, thanks to smartphones and ultra-fast data speeds, patients living in a small Indian town or village can schedule an appointment with a leading specialist. Such interaction not only saves costs but also allows people who live in small towns to receive the same quality medical care that wealthier urban dwellers are accustomed to. The need for such virtual examinations in India is crucial and smartphones are the centrepiece of the technology that makes such examinations possible.
Global collaboration and individualized plans

Because doctors regularly see dozens of patients , it can become difficult for them to give as much attention to each patient as is necessary. Smartphones allow doctors to categorize  patients who have similar symptoms  and allow them to treat them better than they could have been treated individually. By being able to categorize patients , doctors are able to better serve them because many patients in the same category likely require similar remedies and treatments.

Finally, smartphones allow doctors across the globe to treat patients together. This means that a number of doctors working in different parts of the country or across the globe can have a video conference in real time to discuss the latest findings as well as solutions to patients. The final beneficiaries of such great global collaboration are the patients because they gain from the combined medical expertise of the world’s best doctors.

Smartphones have drastically changed our lives. They have not only changed the routine tasks we perform during a day, but also offer us easier access to quality services from professionals such as doctors. By placing the most valued information in our palms and by allowing doctors to work more efficiently, smartphones allow people to lead healthier lives.  

(The author is managing partner, Vinoba Bhave Research Institute)