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Mobile medicine: How technology is revolutionising healthcare

News may have broken recently that the upcoming Apple Watch may not have quite as many health related features as previously thought, but technology, and particularly mobile technology, is already having a major impact on the health industry

Of course, technology has always been at the forefront of medical breakthroughs, but it is the way that personal or consumer gadgets are being used on the frontline of medicine that signals a break from the past.

Read more: Price worries led to cuts of original Apple Watch health goals

This new form of healthcare is likely to have emerged as by-product of using the Internet as a tool for self-diagnosis. Before the advent of the World Wide Web, visiting a doctor in person was likely to be the only way of understanding and diagnosing any symptoms you were experiencing. Now, although professional help is still advised, individuals can use the vast array of online resources to help them understand if they are suffering from a particular condition, and in the cases of mild illnesses, even treat them effectively.

Recently Google has even begun offering important medical information as part of its Knowledge Graph – the additional information positioned above its regular search results. Utilising data gathered from a team of real-life doctors, the feature aims to “empower” consumers to take a more proactive approach to their wellbeing.

In this regard, healthcare and medicine also reflects a recent social development, whereby the prevalence of smartphones has led to consumers having access to a global database of information on any subject that they desire. When you consider that smartphones can also access a wealth of information about the user themselves, mobiles begin to present themselves as a powerful medical tool.

A paper titled “The Future of Smartphones in Health Care” published in 2013, highlights the important role that handsets are already playing.

“Already, smartphone-compatible medical devices such as weight scales, blood pressure cuffs, and pulse oximeters are making their way into patients’ homes,” the report explains. “By providing health information and instructions for use in a user-friendly interface, smartphone-synced devices empower patients to take an active role in their own health. Unlike older generations of at-home monitoring equipment that required manual record keeping, these smartphone devices’ associated apps allow patient data to be automatically recorded and stored in personalized profiles that can be transmitted securely to the patient’s medical home.”

The ability for smartphones to combine portability with real-time data collection has clearly seen them provide a real benefit for patient care, with mobile accessories now available to help analyse blood pressure, heart rate and lung function amongst other health metrics. Apple’s HealthKit iOS service has also reportedly seen adoption in more than half of the US’s top hospitals.

However, smartphones can also play a role in monitoring and managing the wellbeing of those who are currently healthy. Whether it’s via a dedicated wearable fitness sensor, such as the Nike FuelBand, or a smartphone app like Fitbit, consumers are taking control of their health and fitness more than ever using mobile technology.

Perhaps the biggest development expected in smartphone-related healthcare will emerge in developing countries.

The ever-decreasing price of budget handsets has meant that smartphone adoption is expected to skyrocket in Asian and African countries, providing an effective way of getting healthcare into the hands of those that would normally be denied access.

Researchers at Colombia University recently unveiled a mobile accessory that can test for HIV in just 15 minutes, using a smartphone’s processing power to analyse blood samples. The device costs just $34 and could revolutionise HIV diagnosis in less wealthy nations where expensive medical equipment is scarce. By comparison, traditional disease analysis machines can cost as much as $18,450.

Similar peripherals are also in development to enable smartphones to analyse the user’s breath for life-threatening diseases, with the potential for more and more medical accessories expanding rapidly.

With smartphones able to access an online trove of information regarding diseases and treatments, as well as data on its owner, it’s not a surprise that more and more consumers and scientists are taking advantage of their very own pocket doctor. With the growth of wearable technology and the Internet of Things expected to occur over the next few years, the amount of medically pertinent information available is also going to increase, bringing further healthcare innovations.

Read more: Tech and health: So much more than wristbands

With our personal health obviously being of great importance, it’s no surprise that companies like Apple, Google and many others are realising that our smartphones are not just convenience tools, they could be life-savers too.

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.