The Cell Phone as Health Coach, Personal Medical Assistant

An article from Associated Press posted on the front page of MSN poses the question, Will Cell Phones Replace PCs?

I hardly think that will happen anytime soon, but I continue to be impressed by the growing array of applications and services that are now available for my Pocket PC Phone and Smart Phone. Contrary to the belief that physicians are techno-phobic, doctors were among the first professionals to widely embrace cell phones, even when they were as bulky as bricks and the service was expensive. Why? Because the cell phone served a very important business function; keeping highly mobile professionals connected to their business operations and patients.

I must admit that I love my mobile devices. My Pocket PC Phone (an XDA II model) seems to offer everything a busy clinician could want. It's great for processing e-mail (something I get a lot of) on the fly. Its a very reasonable phone. I've got tons of medical reference material just a click away. Some of it seamlessly updates every time I connect to the Internet so my drug information is always up to date. With my 1G SD card I've loaded in most of the music I love. I can surf the Net. I use a Bluetooth GPS device to facilitate turn by turn navigation so I never get lost. I watch videos, play games, and monitor my finances. I can do lot of this when I use my Smart Phone too, although I must admit the smaller screen size is challenging for older eyes when doing e-mail. But, the Smart Phone's size is also its advantage when I want to carry something a bit more diminutive on social outings.

The potential for these powerful little computers in medcine isn't being lost on those of us who work in healthcare. Researchers are tuning in to a myriad of possibilities for these devices. In the very near future, the Pocket PC or Smart Phone may become your health coach and personal medical assistant (PMA). One of my associates in Microsoft Research has developed a prototype that uses a Bluetooth-enabled pulse oximeter and Smart Phone for monitoring patients with sleep apnea. A patient wears the wireless monitor clipped to a finger or toe overnight and awakens in the morning to find a complete summary of apneic episodes that have occurred during the night. Researchers are also looking at Smart Phones as monitors, recorders and transmitters for other physiological processes. The Smart Phone or Pocket PC Phone might become "information central" for patients with diabetes, cardiac arrhythmias, asthma or other chronic diseases. In fact, it may be the perfect device for such purposes since it is the one accessory that never seems to extend very far from our reach.

What do you think? Let us know.

Bill Crounse, MD, Global Healthcare Industry Manager, Microsoft Healthcare and Life Sciences