Big Brother Health Care?: How Smartphones Are Changing Medicine

One doctor envisions the future of health care.

Did you know that the same device you use to post Instagram photos and funny Twitter updates might someday save a life? Even … your own life? In a recent segment, NBC’s Rock Center dove head-first into what could be the future of health care, a digital landscape of apps that can monitor, measure and track your vitals in real time right in the palm of your hand.

We can see glimpses of it already with things like the FitBit, which monitors your movements and sends data readouts of your daily steps and calorie burn right to your phone. And I know tons of people who are hooked on apps like My Fitness Pal, which helps users lose weight by simplifying calorie counting. But the Rock Center segment takes it a step further, looking at medical apps that are on the market now—and could be in the future—to help doctors and patients keep real-time tabs on their health.

The piece centers around one particularly forward-thing doctor named Eric Topol, a noted cardiologist, researcher, and leader in the field of wireless medicine, who once used a cellphone-powered cardiogram device onboard an airplane to diagnose a fellow passenger’s heart attack. (The plane landed, the patient lived, end scene.) He believes that these smart smartphone devices can lead to better, more affordable health care across the country. One day, he says, patients may even be outfitted with tiny sensors that circulate in their blood stream and send data from inside their bodies right to their phones.

“By having a sensor in the blood, we can pick up all sorts of things,” he told NBC. “Whether it’s cells coming off an artery lining [indicating heart attack], whether it’s the first cancer cells getting in the bloodstream, whether it’s the immune system revving up for asthma or diabetes or you name it. All these things will be detected by sensors in the blood which will then talk to the phone.” And not just your phone—your doctor’s phone, too, cutting down on pricey visits and checkups by allowing hand-held insta-monitoring.

Check out Topol’s complete vision for health care here. But what do you think? Big Brother health care or exciting innovation?