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Health IT Pulse

Feb 28 2012   11:12AM GMT

Monitoring health via mobile devices remains risky business

Posted by: CbyerTechTarget
mobile health, mobile health technologies, remote patient monitoring

National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari, M.D., (ONC), said that patients now have tools at their fingertips during his keynote speech at the Health Information and Management System Society’s HIMSS 2012 conference. It was a nod to mobile health, clearly, but patients who use monitoring devices through smartphones and other mobile devices must tread carefully.

Why tread carefully? Smartphones and apps are not always reliable, and often times have flaws. An article in the New York Times helped show inconsistencies in monitoring devices, as did a number of reviews from consumers in the market for devices.

One example is the iStethoscope Pro app, which is intended to monitor heart rate. The app comes with a warning that it is meant for entertainment purposes, but patients could still see it as a reliable monitoring device. While the article says the use of smartphones “must be balanced with the cold reality that all of the experimenters should consult with their physicians,” it does not mean they will.

The $129 Withings blood pressure monitor is designed to plug into an iPhone or iPad. It comes with a cuff that will inflate, deflate and record pulse rate and blood pressure automatically. A review on Gizmodo said it is a “pretty amazing device” if “you’ve been told to monitor your blood pressure, have a family history of hypertension, or are just a quantified-self type into life tracking.” However, the review added that the device does not let the user know when they have explicitly high readings and the colors associated with that are easy to miss. Additionally, the device does not offer wireless connectivity.

Websites designed for patients to enter health information are becoming increasingly popular, too. Glucosebuddy falls into that category, and people can use it to keep track of their blood-sugar level. The information must be entered manually via a computer or iPhone app. If entered on the iPhone, it can be uploaded directly to the website. The Invisible Minority blog posted good and bad comments, ranging from app crashes and small font size to the ability to analyze data in graphs.

While patients may have monitoring devices and their corresponding apps at their fingertips, if those tools do not provide accurate information using them will not result in better care. What’s more, patients who want to continue to monitor their own health might get a long look from their doctor since many in the medical field are not keen on do-it-yourself monitoring, according to Eric Topol, M.D., a cardiologist at the Scripps Medical Institute in La Jolla, Calif., adding that most providers are resistant to change.

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