Smartphones – Good or Bad For Your Health? – Part II


In Part I of this series I discussed how smartphone use while driving your car can be bad for your health – and the health of other drivers on the road. This post I’ll discuss how smartphones can be good for your health.

Chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes are the major medical challenges of our time. We have good medications to treat them, but managing these medications can be difficult. Failure to take medications properly and consistently leads to emergency room visits, heart attacks, strokes, diabetic ketoacidosis, and consequent hospitalizations and even death.

Anything that makes the management of these diseases easier is progress. That’s where smartphones come in.

Kaiser Permanente, a large managed care organization, now allows patients to visit doctors virtually, including videoconferencing, via a mobile app. It works with either Android or iPhone technology. According to The Wall Street Journal, last year more than 50% of all Kaiser physician interactions were virtual – over a million a week.

A company called Omada Health has built mobile tools to help patients track their food, exercise and weight against goals set to reverse Type 2 diabetes. Smartphones make these interventions convenient, affordable and scalable.

For instance, most people have a hard time being consistent about taking their medications. Studies show that less than 50% of patients adhere to their medication regimens – and often don’t even fill their prescriptions! This noncompliance adds huge costs to the American healthcare system estimated at $290 billion a year.

Proteus Digital Health has developed an FDA-cleared solution to the problem. Commonly prescribed drugs (such as metformin for Type 2 diabetes or losartan for high blood pressure) are combined with a microscopic sensor that turns on when swallowed. A small wearable patch detects the pills and tracks the person’s wellness, sending information to the patient and, with permission, to the doctor. Studies conducted by Proteus show that patients using the system take their medication 80% of the time or more, with improved outcomes as a result.

Surprise! Taking medications makes a difference! As every doctor knows, patients don’t get better when they don’t take their medications. The old saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” applies here. But now at least you’ll know whether or not he’s drinking!

Dr. Regina Benjamin, former surgeon general, and Andrew Thompson, CEO of Proteus Digital Health, say these digital innovations can change the payment model for healthcare. Today governments, insurers, and patients buy expensive components: drugs, devices, professional services, in pursuit of improved healthcare outcomes. Digital technology can allow companies to offer solutions to achieve the desired outcomes and then take responsibility for ensuring that they work.

In other words, Omada Health could get paid for delivering weight loss; Proteus could get paid when patients take their medications on time. Payment could be tied to results. With this type of payment model, innovation would be incentivized and accountability would be rewarded.

So smartphones can be good for your health – when properly used – or bad when they become a distraction while driving or operating machinery. Like most things, there’s a time and a place for everything.


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