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Diagnosing patients with help from a cell phone

Posted Sep 03 2010 9:54am

By Kester Freeman
Former CEO, Palmetto Health

The world of healthcare is quickly becoming more high-tech with help from patient cell phones.  A new generation of doctors, nurses and other staff seem to be embracing these changes as they test out whether mobile devices can in fact be an asset when it comes to treating and diagnosing patients.

A doctor at George Washington University Hospital is conducting what is considered the largest “mobile health” study looking at acute wound care. The study will assess how accurately emergency doctors and physician assistants can diagnose wounds from patient-generated cellphone images. They are recruiting patients who arrive in the emergency department with cuts, skin infections and rashes. The patients then document their condition with the camera on their mobile device and e-mail the photos to a secure e-mail account. Doctors then use a PC to zoom in to the photos and make a diagnosis.

So far, about 90 percent of diagnoses have been accurate. That is impressive.

Not everyone will be comfortable using this technology to diagnose patients, but others are embracing it with open arms. Obviously there will be some situations where it will just not be practical. But many in healthcare agree, today’s technology is a game changer in terms of how we can communicate better and more efficiently with patients.

There are still concerns that need to be addressed before this type of mobile health option becomes common.  Details to work out include privacy issues, payment structure and physician workload.

One doctor, involved with the study, says it is just a matter of time. He envisions a future that includes patients sending photos of injuries to a call center where doctors, nurses and physician assistants can diagnose what they see via their video screen. Work will be distributed differently than it is now in order to improve patient care and emergency room efficiency.

Considering how over burdened many emergency rooms are these days, this could be very helpful. It may be a way to assist those patients who show up in the ER, but really do not have a situation or condition that requires emergency care. In many cases, they just need information about how they can care for a less serious condition at home.

Soon, mobile health may fill that void.

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