A 2014 study estimated that by the year 2020, 25 to 50 percent of all healthcare transactions would be conducted electronically. They also theorized that 25 percent of all patient encounters with healthcare professions could be performed using smartphones, smart watches, or other mobile health means.1 Their prediction seems to have merit as an increasing number of people in the United States have access to computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices including American seniors.2 This has led to a rise in online health searches, information sharing, and community building.3
For example, there is a social networking site called PatientsLikeMe that offers patients an opportunity to connect with other patients to discuss experiences and share information related to common diseases and disorders. Another company named HealthTap allows patients to connect with a network of thousands of physicians to get their personal health questions answered, review a library of previous patient-asked and physician-responded content, and request virtual consultations with board-certified physicians.3
Other technological advancements have expanded diagnostic and treatment capabilities. A company called The SmartPill Corporation developed an ingestible capsule that uses sensors to measure pH, gastrointestinal temperature, and pressure.3 The latest Apple Watch series can track heart rate, notify wearers of irregular heart rhythms, perform an ECG reading, and even detect falls.4 Another app that can be paired with the Apple Watch is Zimmer Biomet’s mymobility app. This app provides education to patients prior to certain orthopedic surgeries, shows patients how to perform physical therapy exercises after surgery, sends helpful reminders, and allows patients to send HIPAA-compliant messages to their surgical care team. For this app and others, patients may need their own smart phone, and not all apps are available or right for all patients. Talk to your surgeon to see if certain apps or websites might be appropriate for you.
Technologies and programs like those described above can help increase patients’ access to their healthcare providers, improve health education between providers and patients, and provide patients with supportive communities in addressing their personal health challenges.