How are smartphones and computer programs transforming healthcare, especially when it comes to preventing, diagnosing and treating heart disease? This is the focus of a collection of articles recently published in the European Heart Journal.
Called eHealth, the topic includes smartphone applications that can provide warnings of low blood pressure or glucose levels, and even predict worsening heart failure from the sound of a person’s voice. There are mobile apps for doctors in the clinic providing computerised decision support systems, and “Big Data” programmes that analyse millions of patient records to understand what cardiovascular treatments are having the greatest impact in specific situations, or how the results from one country compare to the results in others.
“Our profession and its use of electronic information is changing rapidly” says Jeroen Bax, president of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). “Cutting-edge technologies are providing medical insights like never before.”
The ESC has representatives working with the European Commission’s Expert groups on eHealth to ensure the interests of cardiovascular professionals and their patients are well represented. According to a press release, the ESC sees eHealth as vital to achieving its mission of reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease and allowing people to live longer, healthier lives.
Martin Cowie, professor of cardiology at the National Health and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, London, UK, and coordinator of the ESC eHealth Unit, said remote access and personal monitoring would enable heart patients to gather their own data.
“eHealth is truly a revolution for health and healthcare. It is one of the most exciting changes we have seen in decades. It can help empower a person living with a medical condition,” says Cowie. “People do not have to go to hospital to receive input. They can collect information at home or even when they are out and about pursuing their daily activities and those data can help doctors make better and more timely decisions with them.”
IBM have created a cutting-edge technology platform, Watson, that can help a physician diagnose a medical complaint by combing through more than a million textbooks and scientific abstracts within seconds. “We are a catalyst to translate ‘Big Data’ to empower doctors so they can take more time with their patients,” says Kyu Rhee, chief health officer at IBM.
He adds, “For a cardiologist who has ten to fifteen minutes with a patient, they often find they have a large medical record with multiple chronic conditions and issues. This is not about replacing physicians. It is about augmenting their intelligence at the point of care so they can focus on their relationships.”
Social media is creating its own exciting opportunities for physicians and patients to communicate with each other.
But some physicians warn that this comes with definite risks: patients do not always distinguish between “right” and “wrong” information on social media. This requires experts, according to one of the articles—cardiologists who are able to make this distinction, correct inaccurate information, and lead patients in the right direction.