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Take two apps and call me in the morning: Smartphones play growing role in medicine

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The smartphone is turning into a critical, albeit imperfect, tool in getting better health care information in the hands of patients, members of a panel said today.

Dr. Gabriela Bowers, an internist at Windsor Regional Medical Associates, said apps have become an increasingly useful in monitoring weight, fitness and even blood sugar levels among patients.

Bowers also described an example of a patient, who through a smartphone camera, photographed a tick bite after being bitten. By the time the patient entered her office, Bowers said, the rash was gone, but the picture revealed the patient needed treatment for Lyme disease.

“Rashes don’t work well on phones, but it’s better than not seeing anything at all,” Bowers said.

Bowers was part of a panel convened by the New Jersey Technology Council, which held a daylong conference today on how advances in information technology are transforming health care. The summit took place at the New Jersey Hospital Association Conference Center, in Princeton.

LifeVest Health CEO Jon Cooper said the smartphone more and more is becoming a clinical tool and activity tracker. But members were quick to acknowledge that access to technology reflects economic status, and not everyone taps the latest advances.

The poor, who contribute disproportionately to health care costs, lag in this area, said Pat Barnett, CEO of New Jersey Health Association.

“Technology is something that completely leaves them out of the loop until they get to the hospital,” Barnett said.

Audience member Nick Springs, CEO of Humantis Consulting, which advises life science companies, also cautioned against embracing apps that may not be reliable or accurate, just like one wouldn’t use a drug without knowing it is safe and effective. Bowers replied that she recommends apps to patients strictly as a tool to record information, not as something that advises what medical action to take.

Panel discussion addressed broader themes including the conversion from paper to electronic records — a trend members said holds promise, but needs to be standardized better, and the shift toward health information exchanges as part of the national health reform.

Keynote speaker John Lumpkin, senior vice president and executive director of The Healthcare Group at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who preceded the panel, said getting better health care information to patients is key to reducing costs.

“As you start to provide more information to patients, their decision-making process starts to change,” Lumpkin said.

He described the recent Supreme Court ruling declaring that human gene sequencing can’t be patented as a plus, because it will make genetic tests available to patients at less cost.

Reporter Tom Zanki is @BizTZanki on Twitter.

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