At this moment, an estimated 1.5 billion “smartphones” are in use worldwide, a number that’s projected to reach 6 billion by 2020. Just over a decade ago, when these devices first hit the market, few imagined how rapidly – and in how many different ways – they would change our lives. From texting to online purchases, instant information searches, embedded GPS devices that get us where we need to go, and so much more, mobile technology is allowing us to get things done faster and more efficiently than most of us would have dreamed of a few short years ago.
Of all the contributions we’ve seen from mobile technology, however, I believe that nothing has the potential to be more meaningful and transformative than its impact on our ability to monitor health and manage illnesses. For example, a long list of apps and online platforms is helping patients become more engaged and aware of their own health habits, such as exercise and eating patterns, and risk factors like blood pressure and weight. With handheld devices, patients can obtain advice and information in real-time and also track and upload their numbers to their doctors, who can respond right away with follow-up recommendations. In 2015, it was estimated that up to 500 million people worldwide would use some kind of health app. Numerous studies suggest that patients who use these platforms to track their numbers are more likely to have their risk factors under control, which is essential to preventing the development of chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
The role of mobile technology goes far beyond prevention. For example, it is helping hospitals improve quality of care by speeding up their capacity to collect and analyze patient data and also support treatment decision-making. It’s making remote care possible through telemedicine, with doctors able to diagnose and assess symptoms for stroke and other acute events from miles away once patients and their families leave the hospital, creating a connected health experience. There are even apps that can perform electrocardiograms and other key diagnostic procedures.
At the American Heart Association, we applaud the “disruption” that mobile technology has caused in health care, because ultimately it is helping to improve patient outcomes and save lives. The best news is that we’re still in the beginning stages of where we can go in reshaping health care. I’m hopeful that more people will get involved in the discussion and share their vision, expertise and ideas. Every step we take forward will help patients achieve a better quality of life, and that’s a goal well worth striving for.