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OM in the News: Your Smartphone Will See You Now

January 11, 2015
New smartphone tools, like blood pressure monitors, aim to give more power to patients

New smartphone tools, like blood pressure monitors, aim to give more power to patients

Over the past decade, smartphones have radically changed many aspects of our everyday lives, from banking to shopping to entertainment. Medicine is next, writes Dr. Eric Topol in The Wall Street Journal (Jan.10-11, 2015). With the smartphone revolution, an increasingly powerful new set of tools—from attachments that can diagnose an ear infection or track heart rhythms to an app that can monitor mental health—can reduce our use of doctors, cut costs, speed up the pace of care and give more power to patients.

Let’s say you have a rash that you need examined. Today, you can snap a picture of it and download an app to process the image. Within minutes, a computer algorithm can text you your diagnosis. That message could include next steps, such as recommending a topical ointment or a visit to a dermatologist for further assessment. Smartphones already can be used to take blood-pressure readings or even do an EKG.

Now, at any time of day or night, you can get a secure video consultation with a doctor via smartphone at the same cost (about $30-$40) as the typical copay charge. Deloitte has forecast that virtual physician visits (replacing physical office visits) will soon become the norm– that as many as 1 in 6 doctor visits were already virtual in 2014. Even bigger changes are in the works. Using wearable wireless sensors, you can use your smartphone to generate your own medical data, including measuring your blood-oxygen and glucose levels, blood pressure and heart rhythm. And if you’re worried that your child may have an ear infection, a smartphone attachment will let you perform an easy eardrum exam that can rapidly diagnose the problem without a trip to the pediatrician.

“We’re often told that the U.S. faces a big looming shortage of physicians,” writes Dr. Topol. “The expansion of DIY medical capabilities certainly challenges that notion: We may end up not having a physician shortage at all.”

Classroom discussion questions:
1. How can the smartphone be used in other service industries?
2. Why is this an important operations tool?

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