To give someone a decent medical exam these days, all you need is a smartphone and a few hundred dollars. The standard equipment–electrocardiogram, otoscope, blood pressure monitor, and so on–is all available as phone attachments. For example, you can now buy a FDA-approved smartphone case that doubles as an EKG heart monitor. It costs just $200.
This consumerization of medical technology could have profound implications. It should widen access to health care in poorer parts of the world, and could allow patients to do more of their own screening. “We see a future where physicians won’t just prescribe a pill for reducing your blood pressure,” says Shiv Gaglani, editor of Medgadget, a mobile health website. “They’ll prescribe a pill and a smartphone-based blood pressure cuff, and it will show you how well the medication is working, and whether the patient is improving their health.” In other words, doctors and patients will become more like partners, with smartphones playing a role as intermediaries.
Gaglani, a medical student at Johns Hopkins, wants more clinicians to experiment with mobile health. Last year, he put together the Smartphone Physical, a showcase and 10-spot exam for visitors at the TEDMED conference. Now, he’s launching Quantified Care, a marketplace for clinicians and consumers.
“We got a lot of feedback from clinicians and started hearing the same questions over and over,” he says. “What’s the evidence that this will actually improve care? Will it be useful? And how are we going to pay for it? [The site] is about how we go from these things being toys to them being tools.”
Gaglani is looking for $20,000 to launch the full site (see the Indiegogo video above). It will include devices for sale, practical advice about how clinicians might use them, and his own range of products, like the Osler, a leather bag designed to carry m-health equipment. With a price tag of $400, it’s a new take on the classic doctor’s bag, but with more space for laptops and cabling. “We realized it was very easy to lose parts and not have a way to access them,” Gaglani says.
Gaglani is a big evangelist for m-health, and not just because he thinks it’s innovative. He actually believes it could improve care. For example, a smartphone-connected stethoscope can not only listen sounds around the body. It can also record them and establish an audio history for each patient that can be referred to at a later date. There’s also potential for mobile health to reduce costs and involve patients more in health care. But, to go mainstream, it will require both clinicians and consumers to adopt the technology.