AirStrip Technologies is setting your doctor free. The Texas based company is developing a suite of hardware/software solutions that allow physicians and nurses to monitor important vital signs from their smart phone. Now, your doctor can use her iPhone to keep track of heartbeats, nurse’s notes, exams results, and drug doses even when she is out of the hospital. AirStrip already has their obstetrician application (AirStrip OB) up and running in facilities across the US, and they’re working on similar Apps for critical care, cardiology, imaging, and lab work. By extending their virtual presence, doctors may be able to provide better healthcare 24/7. This may also be a sign that virtual diagnosis, monitoring, and expert support are poised to revolutionize medical practice. You can check out a free demo of AirStrip OB at the App Store, or watch a local news segment on the program in the video below.
As we’ve seen time and again, medicine is merging with information technology. New monitoring systems are ready to aggregate the multitude of vital signs collected during a patient’s hospital stay and route them through one (likely disposable) electronic patch. When maintained outside of the hospital, such monitoring may empower patients to take a more active role in their health by managing their own information and creating user guided healthcare. The future may be filled with people who use health related data mining to become medical experts of their own bodies.
In the meantime, doctors are on the verge of being flooded with even more data than they had before. And that data is going to follow them everywhere. We’ve already seen digital stethoscopes that will bounce information to a smart phone, and now AirStrip Technologies is aiming to do the same for every other class of vital signs they can get their hands on. For now, that routing of data requires some specialized hardware – for AirStrip OB patients must wear a special device that straps across the abdomen and measures fetal heartrate and maternal contractions, as you’ll see in the video below:
Eventually every instrument in the hospital or in your doctor’s toolkit will be broadcast ready, able to send your vital information to your doctor wherever she may be. That certainly has some privacy issues associated with it. As we add our health information to the stream of bank data, personal messages, and passwords already streaming through the aether there are likely to be some tough hurdles to clear to keep records from being unduly accessed. Still, I don’t think these technologies represent any greater vulnerability than any other data exchange system. AirStrip, at least, is HIPAA compliant.
What we may (or may not) lose in our sense of security we will more than make up with our access to better healthcare. For now, AirStrip is framing the discussion in terms of your doctor having access to your records while they are away from you. Really though, the benefits could kick in when remote doctors could have access to the same information. We’ve already seen how mobile phones fitted with microscopes could allow people in isolated parts of the world to have access to medical labs and doctor advice. Now, smart phone based data systems could ramp up that same principle for patients who already have access to medical professionals. iPhone Apps could not only let your doctor track your health, they could one day allow her to share your vitals and get the opinions of any other doctor she may wish to consult…anywhere in the world. Add to this the already burgeoning field of software designed to advise doctors on decisions, and you get a system that could potentially let you benefit from the experience of not just one doctor, but several…perhaps thousands via the accumulated expertise in the software. Probably in close to real time.
It’s unclear how quickly we’ll be able to leverage the new buildup of medical information. Many parts of the world (US included) are still struggling to transition to digital records. Health monitoring devices, though edging towards market, are not yet ready for global implementation. We’re likely nearing the ledge of Healthcare 2.0, but it’s unclear when we’ll actually make the leap forward. For its part, AirStrip Technologies has a very interesting product. I’ve played around with their demo on the iPhone and it really struck home how much information would be available to your OB/GYN during labor. Hopefully the related products for critical care, cardiology, etc, will be coming soon. I think that making your vital signs mobile has the potential to one day give every patient access to not just a doctor, but to the collected expertise of the entire global community of medical professionals. By the time that happens, of course, some of those doctors may actually be digital themselves.
To that end, I’d like to leave you with the (brilliant?) words of the Channel 11 News anchor:
“It’s never going to end, is it? This technology, it’s crazy.”