By chris conrad
Dr. Brian Gross used to tape two quarters to the back of his pager in the event that one of his patients was suffering heart complications and needed him to call.
“This was before cellphones were everywhere,” Gross said. “I always taped two quarters to the pager if I accidentally misdialed a pay phone and had to use the other quarter.”
The cardiologist then listened to a nurse or the patient try to describe the medical issue over the phone. Those days are over, now that smartphones have become ubiquitous, Gross said.
“Now I can have an EKG sent to my phone,” Gross said. “I don’t do it now, but I could also FaceTime with a patient if I wanted to.”
Gross is among a group of local heart doctors taking advantage of technology. Smartphones and their applications give doctors another tool to help with everything from maintaining diet and pill regimens to surviving cardiac arrest.
Mobile apps such as Epocrates, Doximity and MediBabble are used almost daily at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center’s heart ward, according to cardiologist Dr. Mark Huth.
The apps, some of which are free, are available to the public as well as doctors. Huth believes they remove the veil of secrecy that has sheltered medicine from the general public for decades.
“Medicine has been a closed shop, if you will,” Huth said. “These devices open things up for people. It allows them to understand some of what we do.”
For instance, iPhones can be equipped with a sensitive backing plate that can read a user’s heart rate. In effect, the phone becomes a miniature EKG that gives an accurate reading of the electric activity within the heart.
It might not be as fine-tuned as the high-end EKGs at the hospital, but it can give a doctor a quick read on your vital signs, Huth said.
“The best thing about this is that someone can take their own EKG reading on their phone and then send it to me instantly,” Huth said. “I’ll then take a look at it to see if anything is wrong.”
Huth said he has used the smartphone EKG to alter a patient’s medication.
Certain smartphones can also be fitted for ultrasound equipment and a pulse oximeter that measures pulse rate and blood oxygenation, Huth said.
“This is neat stuff and there’s so much more on the horizon,” Huth said.
Gross said he uses the app MediBabble to translate medical language for non-English-speaking patients. The app breaks the dialogue down into simple yes and no questions. This comes in handy for late-night patients when the hospital might not have an interpreter readily available.
The Epocrates app is active in Gross’ office because it allows him to quickly look up different types of medications and how they interact with each other.
“Before this app, that was a time-consuming process,” Gross said.
Other apps allow doctors to share information about a patient who’s seeing other doctors across the state or country. The information is not made public and is protected by encryption programs, Gross said.
Of course, smartphones won’t replace the cutting-edge equipment at the hospital, which is strictly regulated by the federal government. But the mobile devices will give a patient some basic medical equipment they can use at home.
“The devices empower them to make good decisions regarding their own health,” Huth said. “They can use them to make decisions about altering their diet and getting more exercise.”
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.