Change in the health world is observed constantly, even the producers of Doctor Who casted women as the lead roles for the second time in a row! Changes need to start being embraced by real-life doctors too, who for years have depended upon traditional methods in patient consultations and follow specific templates. The template usually goes as follows: using manual techniques for auscultation, the doctor examines the patient, using the stethoscope, and will then offer some sort of prescription or suggest a change in lifestyle. In some scenarios, doctors will also suggest a more thorough diagnostic method, such as the ultrasound, an X-ray or even provide a referal to a specialist.
In the third decade of the 21st century, digital health has brought forward novel and innovative ways to approach patient consultations, rendering even the stethoscope redundant, where the doctors of this era can now carry a department’s worth of diagnostic tools in their briefcase!
What are all these must-have devices for a 21st century doctor? Where are all these high tech doctors? And also, are these innovations actually replacements of the traditional methods? Find the answers to these questions and many more below.
1. Digitalizing the stethoscope
In the 19th century, a French physician called Dr Laënnec, invented the stethoscope which was met by reluctance and resistance from his fellow physicians. They thought that it would not be a good idea to distance themselves from the patient and believed that trusting their ears was better than using technology. It took three whole decades until the stethoscope was widely accepted and as we know, today it is a classic symbol of doctors worldwide. If we could take the TARDIS back in time, it would surely be met with the same reluctance, and nowadays the traditional stethoscope has been made redundant by the digitalized versions of it.
One great example of the stethoscope’s evolution is the Eko Core. The Eko Core is compatible with HIPAA-compliant applications, CE-cleared and has been approved by the FDA. Using the digital mode, the device can amplify heart sounds by 40 times, work with seven levels of amplification and also reduce white noise. Eko Core also enables the user to fine tune readings according to which organ they’re focusing on, whether that is the heart, lung or other, and with its application, users can save and share the findings. The app also offers a livestreaming service for telemedical purposes.
2. Pocket sized ECG device
If asked to imagine an electrocardiogram (ECG) device, one will likely picture a massive machine, featuring tangled wires, hooked up to an ever bigger monitor. In the age of digital health, an ECG device is made to literally fit in your wallet. KardiaMobile6 is one such medical grade pocket device, cleared by the FDA, that can measure a patient’s heart and detect conditions such as atrial fibrillation (AFib) and abnormally high or low heart rates, tachycardia or bradycardia. The readings are beamed to the patient’s smartphone and the results can be saved and shared.
3. 30 second blood pressure readings
The blood pressure monitor is another device on the list of digital upgraded devices. The first such monitor was invented in 1881, so you can imagine how different the 21st century versions are, something that the list of FDA approved iHealth blood pressure monitors can showcase. In just 30 seconds, the light and mobile iHealth Clear can measure the systolic, diastolic and heart rate! iHealth Clear can also connect to a smartphone in order to save the results in a digital logbook and can compare previous measurements to the new readings. This can aid better decision making on prevention and treatment.
4. Portable ultrasounds
The ultrasound is an advanced diagnostic device, but in the 21st century, we can even find portable versions of it! Two examples of such devices are the Clarius Portable Ultrasound and the Philips Lumify, that makes it possible to access ultrasound-based diagnosis without visiting a hospital. They both pair up with a smart device and offer high-resolution, real-time ultrasound images, alike those expected from a traditional ultrasound. Digital health’s main goal is exactly that! To be able to provide state-of-the-art medical care wherever it is needed, instead of having to visit a state-of-the-art facility when one needs it.
5. Pocket sized ear tech
Examinings ears is not only uncomfortable for a patient but it is also a challenge for physicians, as ear canals can often be small or even partially obstructed. The pocket sized WiscMed otoscope aims to surpass these challenges, sporting a built-in nano camera, that provides images of the eardrum. These images can then be examined using a computer monitor, without having to trouble the patient at all.
6. Eye tech is now high tech
Another company delivering the promise of digital health is EyeQue. EyeQue is based on an exclusively licensed MIT patent and produces devices that standardizes eye testing technology. The EyeQue Insight determines visual acuity, while the Personal Vision Tracker determines a patient’s refractive status, inclusive of near or far-sightedness and astigmatism. These devices are not only accurate, affordable and light in weight but they also allow eye testing to be done remotely.
7. The all-in-one package!
Remember the tricorder in Star Trek? Every physician drooled over the single device that could analyze a plethora of patient parameters in a matter of minutes! In the 21st century, the Viatom CheckMe Pro is as close as one can get. This FDA-approved portable device can monitor many health parameters, including ECG, body temperature, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and step count. Other companies also have similar ideas, such as the MedWand that was demonstrated at the CES and the BioSticker from BioIntelliSense.
Is resisting change futile?
Reports have shown that less than 35% of physicians are likely to adopt new technologies, such as articial intelligence and telemedicine, even if they are readily available. Why is this?
A very simple reason is because many physicians are not even aware of these devices and their existance. Physicians are preoccupied with their daily routines and remain updated on the latest research regarding technologies like CRISPR but they do not get updated about other technologies regularly. Some might have the idea that these devices are extremely expensive or are not even for sale. This is a misconception however, as such devices are not as expensive as their traditional versions, various regulatory bodies have approved them and they are available on the market.
An example concerning the prices is the Littmann Master Cardiology stethoscope that costs approximately $200, in comparison with the EyeQue Personal Vision Tracker which is priced at $35! Similarly, the Eko Core Digital Stethoscope costs $250. In no way are these promotional adverts, they are simply means of comparison and the prices are expected to decrease along with the progress in technology.
Also, there is still much resistance to adopt new technologies that can perform the art of medicine, very similar to the reluctance that Dr Laënnec faced in the 19th century. Physicians believe that these devices will end the art of medicine, but they actually exist to aid doctors in building better relationships with their patients and getting results faster with much more data. These new devices need to be adopted more frequently in order to make digital health a reality worldwide and hopefully, this will happen sooner rather than later.
Technology will not be replacing hospitals
There is a misconception that these innovative devices aim to replace hospitals but this is far from the reality. Hospitals will always be required in order to get further in-depth tests like MRI scans, surgeries, lab analysis and of course focused attention for critical cases. Using portable diagnostics devices can also help to alleviate the burden healthcare centers face, allowing them to stay focused on providing required critical care.
By the year 2035, WHO has suggested that the world will be short of 12.9 million healthcare workers. However, by using these devices one will not need a healthcare professional to perform basic examinations and will be able to send the data to the professionals for an in-depth analysis if and when that is required. In regions that are underdeveloped and remote, digital health can show its true potential.
Patients can also be empowered by using these devices, as the point-of-care can shift towards them as long as these technologies are adopted by the public and become more affordable. Patients can monitor their own health parameters, meanwhile sharing it with their physicians over the cloud and if any abnormalities are found they can take the action required. What more can a patient want than being able to do these initial screenings from the comfort of their own home? Only when and if suspicious signs are detected they will need to visit the hospital.
By standardizing diagnosis, health education, communication and shifting the point-of-care towards the patient, where it should have been from the start, digital health is a true game changer! Incentives should be provided by policymakers for physicians and healthcare facilities to combine these devices with normal practices, and also to raise awareness to the patients. Patients should be aware about how beneficial these technologies are and incentivized to bring their own devices to meetings with their doctors in order to share their data.
Everything is possible in our century and in this decade technologies are bound to revolutionize the healthcare landscape for the better!