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Are Smartphones Starting a Boom In DIY Medicine? 111

Posted by timothy
from the say-aaaaaah-and-hit-send dept.
An anonymous reader writes "How are you using smartphones and other portable devices to take charge of your medical care? The NY Times has an article about attachments to the iPhone for tracking blood sugar and blood pressure. There are also glorified web cams that take pictures of your ear drum, teeth or eyes to save you a trip to the doctor's. Some people are tracking the changes in their moles with an iPhone App. Is this the beginning of Med 2.0?" Odd as it sounds, I was able to be more quickly and reliably diagnosed with Lyme disease last fall because I'd taken some pictures on my phone of the lesion I'd wrongly thought was the result of a spider bite. Any camera would have worked, but I had my camera-equipped phone with me, rather than any other kind.
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Are Smartphones Starting a Boom In DIY Medicine?

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  • by PessimysticRaven (1864010) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:22PM (#39139549)

    As long as people don't like/trust doctors, or paying the high bills, there will always be serious interest in self-diagnosis. Smartphones do nothing to add to it, aside from allowing a portable search engine to plug symptoms into. Instant gratification.

    On the plus side, this'll likely increase the amount of reported deaths caused by self-treatment, because "ZOMG Technology is EVOL!"

    • by ackthpt (218170) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:27PM (#39139613) Homepage Journal

      As long as people don't like/trust doctors, or paying the high bills, there will always be serious interest in self-diagnosis. Smartphones do nothing to add to it, aside from allowing a portable search engine to plug symptoms into. Instant gratification.

      On the plus side, this'll likely increase the amount of reported deaths caused by self-treatment, because "ZOMG Technology is EVOL!"

      It's a boon to hypochondriacs - they'll find a horrible ailment for every ache, pain, disorientation, discoloration, etc.

    • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:41PM (#39139773) Homepage Journal

      Yet. I predict from this trend will rise cheap, bluetooth enabled medical sensors of various types.

      • I couldn't agree with you more. Anything that a doctor can recognize and diagnose via a photo - a computer will be able to as well. "Yup that's a tick bite. Come on in for some blood work."
    • by couchslug (175151) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:49PM (#39139881)

      "As long as people don't like/trust doctors"

      Nice corporate line. My wife had Lyme and went from doctor to doctor before they finally referred her to specialist care which confirmed what she'd already diagnosed!

      Doctors are not interchangeable, have a tiny slice of time to work with patients (your auto mechanic has more time per car by far!), and are under constant pressure.

      Computer-aided diagnosis can be a huge boon to a public who can't afford medical care or who are under-served by existing options.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Why shouldn't computers help out with diagnosis. Doctors can only have so much going on in their head. They can only read so many journal articles, their knowledge can't be infinite in all directions. I remember that they said one of the uses of Watson (The Jeopardy Playing Computer) was that it would be able to help in medical diagnosis, by using a huge database of medical knowledege. Medical costs are currently out of control in both countries with and without socialized medicine. If we can harness th
        • Medicine is largely heuristics as the physician is matching the symptoms the patient has to a diagnosis, and patients' symptoms are rarely ever "textbook" symptoms. There is a lot of overlap of symptoms and history between many different conditions early on in the illness. People are great at heuristics. Computers are awful at heuristics but are excellent at data storage, algorithmic sorting, and data retrieval. The reason the Jeopardy computer did well is because it was asked to retrieve data. You entered

          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            It would give a better starting point though. Probably wouldn't come up with the complete diagnosis, but would probably be able to get it down to a couple suspect illnesses. Also, it would be able to consider far more options than any doctor could. You could probably save money on tests because a lot of times doctors will go down the wrong path, getting a whole bunch of tests that have nothing to do with the actual condition.
            • No. Computer search algorithms work by taking a large amount of possible matches and then reducing that number by applying filters. If you had a person come in with two days of fever and a cough, the computer would list every condition that has fever and cough as a possibility. It would then recommend a bunch of tests to try and eliminate conditions from the "possible conditions" list until only one remains. If you want to talk about extremely expensive, that's how you get there- go down a list of potential

      • by Belial6 (794905) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @04:39PM (#39140331)
        Not to mention that the vast majority of illness/injury are already self diagnosed and self treated. Can you imagine if every time you got a headache or your kid scratched themselves while playing, you rushed off to the doctor?
      • Please have your wife talk to her doctor about a blood test for vitamin D deficiency (which is related to the immune system). Related:
        http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/news-archive/2010/vitamin-d-regulatory-hormone-of-immunity-and-inflammation/ [vitamindcouncil.org]

        Please also look into the work of Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who is his first "Healthy Times" newsletter has an article about people coming into his office related to Lyme disease and feeling much better after they improve what they eat (much more vegetables and fruits and omega-

      • your auto mechanic has more time per car by far!

        Your auto mechanic gets paid by the hour, at the time of service. Your doctor gets paid per patient, several months later.

        • by couchslug (175151)

          Your mechanic gets paid FLAT RATE, based on a flat rate manual which has estimates of time required (I'm a mechanic).

          He/she has plenty of incentive to kick out the work quickly, but if a broken car comes back the mechanic is often blamed. Not so the physician!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Tracking blood pressure and blood sugar is not self diagnosis. It's really fantastic if you already are diagnosed with something and need to keep track of those numbers in the first place, especially if you combine it with food and medical logs. When I had gestational diabetes, I was able to send reports from a diabetes website to my midwife, so she could keep track of my blood sugars and diets with every visit, to make sure I didn't need to start medication, and remain diet controlled. I was also able t

    • by sjames (1099)

      It'll probably save a few people who would otherwise get no healthcare at all.

    • I cannot even tell you how much of a bad idea this is. I am graduating medical school in two months, and am barely starting to feel "a little" comfortable making a judgment on my own, only a fraction of the time. I will need to accumulate ALL of the experience that 3 years of 80+hour work weeks of residency can give me. And I am a cocky bastard at that. I just realize that the difference between a doctor (especially one trained at a high-volume top-tier teaching hospital) and a civilian is. The gap is so la

      • All the anecdotal evidence posted as a result of this one article, and you still can't see the forest for the trees.

        I'd love it if a caring, smart, motivated professional would take the time to diagnose my ills when I have them - I truly would.

        The problem is that the professionals are neither motivated, smart, nor professional. Let me break that down for you in easy pieces:

        • Motivated: By the time you get to see a doctor, he's already got your money. There's no incentive to actually cure you, and every incent
        • Mod parent up (Score:4, Informative)

          by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @06:49PM (#39141585) Homepage

          Sad, but true...

          And it gets even worse:
          http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/PCI_angioplasty_article.aspx [drfuhrman.com]
          "Interventional cardiology and cardiovascular surgery is basically a scam based on a misunderstanding of the nature of heart disease. Searching for and treating obstructive plaque does not address the areas of the coronary vascular tree most likely to rupture and cause heart attacks. If there was never another CABG or angioplasty performed or stent placed, patients with heart disease would be better off. Doctors would be forced to educate our citizens that their heart disease risk is determined by what they place on their forks. Millions of lives would be dramatically extended. To abandon the theory of stretching and cutting out areas with plaque would shut down interventional cardiology, nearly all cardiovascular surgery, and many suppliers of the biotechnology. In many cases, interventional cardiology is the major income generator to hospitals. The ending of this ill-conceived, out-dated and ineffective technology would dramatically downsize hospitals in the United States and free up over $100 billion annually in medical care costs. Besides being ineffective, interventional cardiology places the responsibility in the hands of the doctor and not the patients. When patients finally realize they must take control of their heart problems with aggressive dietary modifications (and when needed medications for temporary periods) we will essentially solve the health crisis in America.
          The sad thing is surgical interventions and medications are the foundation of modern cardiology and both are relatively ineffective compared to nutritional excellence. My patients routinely reverse their heart disease, and no longer have vulnerable plaque or high blood pressure, so they do not need medical care, hospitals or cardiologists anymore. The problem is that in the real world cardiac patients are not even informed that heart disease is predictably reversed with nutritional excellence. They are not given the opportunity to choose and just corralled into these surgical interventions.
          Trying to figure out how to pay for ineffective and expensive medicine by politicians will never be a real solution. People need to know they do not have to have heart disease to begin with, and if they get it, aggressive nutrition is the most life-saving intervention. And it is free."

          And:
          http://www.pdfernhout.net/to-james-randi-on-skepticism-about-mainstream-science.html#Some_quotes_on_social_problems_in_science [pdfernhout.net]
          "The problems I've discussed are not limited to psychiatry, although they reach their most florid form there. Similar conflicts of interest and biases exist in virtually every field of medicine, particularly those that rely heavily on drugs or devices. It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. (Marcia Angell)"

          Much of the path to better health was known 100 years ago by the natural hygienists. See:
          http://soilandhealth.org/02/0201hyglibcat/shelton.bio.bidwell.htm [soilandhealth.org]
          "At this time in 1927, Dr. Shelton is already being harassed in his Hygienic practice by advocates of The Medical Mentality and by the police. In 1927, Dr. Shelton is jailed for the first time for "practicing medicine without a license" and is fined $100.oo. This same year of 1927, a second arrest takes place, under similar circumstances and with charges of $300.oo. His money is so tight this second time, he has to borrow to be released. Also,

      • by Anonymous Coward

        ...and yet many of "you" (doctors) will protect your turf, put down those "soccer-moms" that know their own kids better than anyone else and have a stronger drive to care for them than anyone else as well. Kind of sad. Here's what's really sad-- my child had a malignant brain tumor. We took him to a nurse practitioner who nailed it right away. I am very thankful because I've met a number of parents who's children had the same (or worse) symptoms and yet their doctors knew so much more than the parents a

    • by umghhh (965931)
      self diagnosis is good, if you are informed then you can talk in more sensible way with your doctors too which is a benefit as this can avoid silly misunderstandings that can be lethal or at least painful. However if you consider that even cleaning your ear in an incorrect way may be dangerous one may thing additional motivation to do things you were not schooled to do may mean additional work for your physician..... In any case I would not try iAnything to help my health. That may mean I lose what is left
      • I couldn't mod this comment high enough, had I the points. Unfortunately, cynic that I am, I'm going to assume that the bulk of people doing the self-diagnosing are either already hypochondriacs or susceptible to becoming one.

        I've simply seen too many instances (personally and professionally, both IT and elsewhere) where self-diagnosis has caused even greater difficulties, to the point where it's best left to an independent set of eyes.

    • There are other reasons to do this. Small town doctors are terrible. It's better to double check on anything they say. I've mentioned things several times that I read on the Internet about in their own field, and they were oblivious. But they are also the kind of doctors that haven't learned anything new in 15 years. There are some good doctors, absolutely, but if you live in a small town, you might be stuck with someone who doesn't keep up.

      The other problem is the time ratio. They examine you for 30 min
  • by shoppa (464619) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:25PM (#39139597)
    I typed in my symptoms and my iPhone says that I have:

    Internet Connectivity Problems

    Oh no, do I have to go to the emergency room??!!!!?
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      I typed in my symptoms and my iPhone says that I have:

        Internet Connectivity Problems

      Oh no, do I have to go to the emergency room??!!!!?

      I think there's some huck^H^H^H^Hexpert selling a device which will save you, but it requires 10 easy payments.

    • by SpzToid (869795)

      Doctor, we've got a 404, Stat!

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Wouldn't a 503 be more appropriate? Also, stat can be translated as "now!" so you're supposed to say what you want first like "We need a WiFi hotspot, stat". It's not capitalized, it's just a normal adverb (from latin statim). And with this much nitpicking in one post, I'm bound to have typo'd something...

    • I typed in my symptoms and my iPhone says that I have:

        Internet Connectivity Problems

      Oh no, do I have to go to the emergency room??!!!!?

      Well, many ER's these days do have open wireless access for people stuck in the waiting room. I'd just advise NOT checking in.

      That might hurt.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        I typed in my symptoms and my iPhone says that I have:

        Internet Connectivity Problems

        Oh no, do I have to go to the emergency room??!!!!?

        Well, many ER's these days do have open wireless access for people stuck in the waiting room. I'd just advise NOT checking in.

        That might hurt.

        A local hospital charges your for checking in. You could be directed to X-Ray, but hop in your car and go home, still find a bill in your post box within two weeks.

        • Just sit in the waiting room typing on your computer. Nobody is going to gainsay you - you're 'waiting for someone'.

          But never, ever check in if you can at all help it....

  • DIY medicine started a lot earlier than smartphone. My friend got hit by a boom while sailing once and split his forehead. His dad grabbed the duct tape conveniently aboard (they were far from a hospital) and *PRESTO*, wound sealed. It healed with less of a scar than my finger I got stitches for.

    On a slightly more serious note, the interwebs and all its tubes have increased the ease of access to medical information and I certainly hope have improved the quality of care patients can get jus
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      DIY medicine started a lot earlier than smartphone. My friend got hit by a boom while sailing once and split his forehead. His dad grabbed the duct tape conveniently aboard (they were far from a hospital) and *PRESTO*, wound sealed. It healed with less of a scar than my finger I got stitches for.

      On a slightly more serious note, the interwebs and all its tubes have increased the ease of access to medical information and I certainly hope have improved the quality of care patients can get just by being more educated.

      I use Super Glue on cuts all the time. Faster than a bandage. Also good when I get one of those damn split fingernails, just glue the sucker back together and I'm back picking my n... picking apples like a pro.

      • Super glue is amazing it's true I use it as well. Although for cuts that are likely to get infected liquid bandage would probably be better- it has a disinfectant in with the glue. #1 in my first aid kit :)

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        I use Super Glue on cuts all the time.

        There are 'medical grade' super glues.
        They use different chemicals that are non-toxic and less irritating to the skin.

        Of course, like a camera, the best type of liquid bandage is the one you have with you.

        P.S. Don't buy any liquid bandaid with oil of cloves in it. The smell is awful and stays on you for far too long.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Actually, medical grade super glues are EXACTLY the same stuff you get at the hardware store, just much more expensive because they're 'medical'.

          • No, the medical stuff dries to a soft, smooth surface. Nothing wrong with the hardware store stuff, though, as long as you clean it really well first. It will hurt, though.
            • by sjames (1099)

              I have used the hardware store stuff myself and had no problems whatsoever. It was painless and flexible. I have seen interviews where surgeons admitted that they just use the hardware store stuff (though that was when it was fairly new).

              I can't see a good reason to pay more for the so called 'medical grade' stuff.

              • The primary reason to use it is that it is blessed by the FDA, so if someone has a reaction at the site there's no question that you used a product that has been tested and certified safe for human use. A secondary reason is that it forms a cohesive mass, so that if you peel it off you don't have to worry about pieces coming off in the wound.
                • by sjames (1099)

                  And things like that are why people end up with no medical care at all.

  • Awareness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trimpnick (1362187) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:36PM (#39139709)
    I think that while documentation is already freely available for a lot of medical conditions, integrations into a single device (that you carry all the time with you) can surely raise awareness about such documentation. I don't think that people wanting to know more about a medical condition is necessarily evil or a sign of not trusting doctors. Has the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake completely disappeared? "Self-medication" may well result in misdiagnosis and possible complications by not going to the doctor in some cases, but on the flip side, it might encourage others to go consult trained professionnals because they think they might not have something as benign as they first thought. Furthermore, there is a lot of developement in completely automated tools for diagnosing infections, genetic mutations, etc which might reduce the need for some medical consultation within the next 5-10 years.
    • Look, knowledgeable patients are helpful, no matter how they get the knowledge. And 'smartphones' are really just a ubiquitous hardware standard for the several devices that have been available to the general public for years - BP cuffs, glucometers, pulse oximeters and a few more. It isn't going to 'revolutionize' anything. I will 'evolutionalize' (huh, spell checker doesn't like that one) things. Just like having automatic blood pressure cuffs so you didn't have to figure out what Kortkoff sounds [wikipedia.org] were

  • the lesion I'd wrongly thought was the result of a spider bite

    Now that could have been waaaay cooler than Lyme desease.

  • by uncledrax (112438) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:42PM (#39139789) Homepage

    .. I'm a bit confused.. is there an App that analysis a photograph and gives you a diagnosis?
    Else I'm wondering how taking a photo of an ailment helps diagnosis.. more information is needed.

    That said, I think it's the availability of Pocket Internet that is doing this. not necessary smartphones.. keep it abstract and we won't have to also have 'Are ${your-tablet-here} starting a boom of DIY medicine?'....

    Further on.. do people really think that every little ailment they have requires a 'medical professional'?
    (I am NOT advocating that laypersons diagnosis or treat anything remotely serious.. just it seems to me people are heading to ERs/MDs for issues that could easily be treated at home with just a tiny bit of knowledge..)

    • Having a photo of a rash that appeared and then went away is a handy thing to show your MD. Just like having a video of a seizure, or of a stroke (especially if the symptoms resolve, as with a TIA).
    • by izomiac (815208)

      Further on.. do people really think that every little ailment they have requires a 'medical professional'? (I am NOT advocating that laypersons diagnosis or treat anything remotely serious.. just it seems to me people are heading to ERs/MDs for issues that could easily be treated at home with just a tiny bit of knowledge..)

      It's amazing how much people's threshold for going to a doctor varies. Some people really do go everytime they have an observable symptom (or at least seem to). Others won't go until their scrotum is the size of a grapefruit and starting to undergo gangrene. Still others just plain never go. IMHO grade school health class should focus on "this is nothing, whereas this is serious", because laypeople often have no idea.

      Even more complicated is the patient who has something that's harmless, but thinks i

  • They way I use my phone to improve my health is by using it less, or use it only when I need to. Put the phone down on my desk instead of having it on my all the time, and don't be so dependent on checking emails and facebook.
  • The faster we can transfer knowledge, the thinner the gap between professionals and autodidacts becomes. I think this is true of every profession, and not just the medical field.
    • by Pope (17780)

      Having a part of a body of knowledge is a damn sight different than being an experienced practitioner in that field.

      • I'm sorry to have not seen your reply, because I'd like to say that I don't disagree with you in the slightest, but I also don't think that your assertion and mine are in contradiction of one another. After all, an academic pathway is merely one pathway. I would be extremely reluctant to let someone without a pertinent degree in the field, perform open heart surgery on me, though while I may believe that "The faster we can transfer knowledge, the thinner the gap between professionals and autodidacts becomes
  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:51PM (#39139891)

    Bluetooth cellphone headsets liberated schizophrenics from the stigma of talking out loud to yourself.
    DIY cellphone medicine will liberate people who want to stick their cell phone up their anus from the stigma associated with sticking a cell phone up your anus.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have an iPhone 4. My wife has advanced Lupus and several other obscure maladies. My ability to grab high quality video of a short & mild (and thankfully rare) seizure/spell, while narrating the event and asking relevant questions of my wife for the 5-10 minutes it lasted was invaluable for the doctor.

    Rather than trying to describe it from my or her memory, the doc could see her pupils, see the limb tremors, hear her responses to questions (Do you know where you are, what is today, what are you feeling

  • Not as more and more employers ban phones from being turned on during company time. It might be hard for an IT guy or developer to get their head around, but it is true and IMHO probably increasing. And giving the boss a note from your doctor requiring you have your phone on and ready at all times would be an hilarious vignette to watch.
  • Sensors (Score:4, Informative)

    by gmuslera (3436) * on Thursday February 23, 2012 @04:41PM (#39140347) Homepage Journal

    Just today was watching this Solve for X talk [wesolveforx.com], where Kevin Dowling present strechable electronics, that is a very thin sheet can be attached to the skin and work as internal sensors, having communication and so on. Pairing that with a cellphone looks the next logical step.

    And yes, with the appropiate sensors a cellphone could be a good boom for diy medicine, provided that it can detect whether you should worry about, take measures for yourself, or scale up to going to a proper doctor or hospital.

  • mHealth (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cheezitmike (537630) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @05:15PM (#39140669)
    Using mobile technologies for healthcare is not just for self-diagnosis or as an alternative to expensive medical care. Many doctors and hospitals are adopting the technology and encouraging their patients to adopt it. There are lots of things you can do smaller and cheaper where telehealth systems or healthcare websites are currently being used. Preventive medicine mobile applications have been successful for improving health outcomes for patients with chronic conditions, in particular. Read the article before casually dismissing the field as a bunch of hypochondriacs trying to self-medicate.

    If you're a developer interested in the mobile health field, the mHealth Summit is currently the best annual conference.focused specifically on mobile health out there: http://www.mhealthsummit.org/ [mhealthsummit.org] Eric Topol, the subject of the NY Times article in the summary above, was one of the keynote speakers at the 2011 conference, along with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
    • by uhead (515002)
      I agree: diagnosis is only one (arguably less important) area where mobile technologies are going to benefit us. I think the real opportunity lies in transforming the way patients live with their illnesses after diagnosis. More generally, mobile technologies have the potential to dramatically improve the quality of our health by empowering patients to be more engaged in their care. I think the current focus on just collecting data for the purpose of diagnosis is misguided. What we really need to be focusing
  • I believe that the rapidly increasing use of smartphones and google in self-diagnosis is linked to a synergy between more inexpensive + better technology and the ridiculous cost structure, attitudes and lack of accountability in medicine. http://dissention.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/who-will-pay-physicians-lawyers-etc-in-the-future/ [wordpress.com]
  • by Tangential (266113) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @06:34PM (#39141451) Homepage
    I suffered a major injury almost 2 years ago that involved compound fractures, wound treatment, PICC lines, osteomyelitis, hyperbaric therapy, 6 surgeries and culminated in a replacement ankle several weeks ago. I found the lack of communications between the various medical branches appalling. Kept photos of every X-ray, every exam, every bloodwork report, as well as a detailed chronology etc.. in my iPhone. That way I was able to share it with each Doc because they would NOT communicate with each other.

    If you are dealing with multiple doctors, you need to make sure that each doc has all of the facts, because for the most part, they could care less about anything not directly in their specific field.

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