The Future of Healthcare: On Your Phone And On Your Body

When it comes to the future of healthcare, both in the developed world and the emerging world, we've got a lot to look forward to.
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When it comes to the future of healthcare, both in the developed world and the emerging world, we've got a lot to look forward to.

In the developed world, doctors visits will go virtual, "doctor-monitored" care will become "self-monitored" care, and quantified care (e.g., how many steps we've taken, and the like) will become vital care.

In the emerging world, technology will change everything, bringing affordable healthcare to those who might otherwise not have access. Better health, besides just feeling better, will also yield higher standards of living. And while affordable healthcare will see many fits and starts -- especially as we try to implement healthcare-for-all in the face of privacy concerns, and work to improve logistical issues, like battery life -- change is happening at a shockingly rapid pace. Here are three of the biggest (and most exciting) changes you'll see in the next few years:

Mobile Phones Will Keep Whole Populations Healthy

According to a recent Pew Center Report, more than half of the populations in emerging countries say they own a cell phone. That means that the technology considered simple in the developed world, like SMS text alerts, can now remind patients about their prescriptions, provide education programs to improve health awareness and collect patient data. Moreover, cell phone ubiquity means healthcare workers can be trained, patients can be "seen" in country or remotely and health inventory, like vaccine supply chains, can be tracked.

Smart phones will create even more opportunity. Utilizing apps, audio, and camera, more healthcare providers will now be able to see and hear directly from their patients or from other providers regardless of where they are located.

For example: to ensure early screening and detection of chronic diseases in India, in 2010 SANA at MIT/Harvard developed an open-source telemedicine platform that allows structured, medical assessments to be encoded onto smartphones, and interface with diagnostics such as ECG, Ultrasound and X-ray/CT-scanners. The platform also enables two-way sharing of medical data between a central medical record database and the phone, yielding early disease detection. More recently, companies like Medic Mobile have focused on registering pregnancies, tracking disease outbreaks and keeping stock of essential medicines through smartphone-enabled databases.

Your Doctor Will Perform Eye Exams (and Other Screenings) From Your Phone

Some really exciting work is also happening in diagnostics. Organizations like Peekvision allow opticians (or assistants) to check a patient's vision using just a mobile phone, and it won't matter if they're not sure what they're seeing because the phone will know what to look for. AliveCor Heart Monitor tracks heart health by generating an actual electrocardiogram (EKG) that checks for problems with the electrical activity of a heart. The monitor collects electrical impulses from your fingertips, converts them into ultrasound signals and then transmits them through your smartphone microphone. CellScope is developing a smartphone-enabled otoscope (a medical device used to look into ears) that will enable physicians to remotely diagnose ear infections in children. Parents will also be able to use the peripheral, which attaches to a smartphone camera lens, to send an image of their child's inner ear that physicians can use to make a diagnosis and then write a prescription if need be.

Moreover, companies like iStethoscope and Thinklabs tap into cell phones' existing microphones, allowing patients to record their own heartbeats, and then forward along the audio to doctors who can track the development of or monitor various conditions. While not all of these are in use in emerging countries (yet), the technology is here, and the potential is enormous.

Wearables Will Prolong Life For All of Us

The existing wearable technology market is, as of now, small: mainly smart glasses, watches and fitness bands, many of which interact with smartphones via apps to track users' sleep, health, and movement. But as far as wearables go, this is only the beginning. Revolutions are happening with hearing aids, blood pressure monitors, prosthetics and other devices.

For example, with new smart hearing aids, users can get tailored programs to improve their ability to hear in different environments. Using GPS, they can even geo-tag an area with a certain set of settings and be prompted to activate them when re-entering the same place. Companies like MC10, are reshaping electronics into products that bend, stretch, and flex -- all without compromising performance.

One of the major issues that could seriously limit wearable tech's immediate reach in developing markets is battery life. But here too, innovators are developing solutions, especially for regions with low access to electricity. Companies like ARM are working to integrate low-power chips, and groups are studying cloud storage, which also prolongs battery life. Earlier this year, a team from the National University of Singapore developed a postage-sized device that can power basic wearables by converting static electricity into usable energy, eliminating the need for batteries.

Thanks to recent technological breakthroughs, the future of healthcare looks incredibly bright. But embracing these developments doesn't just mean more efficient and effective healthcare for those of us in developed countries, an already prosperous country. It means lower costs, and ultimately greater access, for patients the world over.

This blog post is part of a series on the future of health and technology produced by the editors of HuffPost ImpactX in conjunction with the world premiere of the trailer for documentary 'Detected,' produced by Ironbound Films, in partnership with Cisco. The trailer will debut on March 16 at the SXSW Music and Film Festival in Austin, TX. For more information about 'Detected,' click here. To see all the other posts in the series, click here

Cisco sponsors The Huffington Post's Impact X section.

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