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The Doctor in Your Pocket: How We're Teaching Mobile Technology to Keep Us Healthy


Smartphones and other electronics are helping patients save money -- and helping doctors save lives.

Detecting Infection With Analytics

A whopping 20 percent of all premature babies contract serious infections during their hospital stays. But while modern intensive care units nearly overflow with data related to these preemies' hospitalizations, most of it is simply not used, says Caroline McGregor, a computer scientist at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Why? The standard monitoring of a premature infant tracks the heartbeat, chest motion, breathing rate, heart rate, blood oxygen level, and blood pressure many times – sometimes hundreds of times – per second. Despite the millions of heartbeat measurements generated per day, nurses "write one number, on a paper chart, every hour," to represent an infant's heartbeat, McGregor explains.

But working with IBM (NYSE:IBM) on a computing platform to gather and analyze the data, McGregor and her team discovered a lifesaving pattern. The rhythm of a healthy person's heartbeat is not perfectly regular – but when an infection begins, the heartbeat becomes more uniform.

By harnessing millions of heartbeat measurements from the ICU each day, McGregor found she could detect a baby's infection at least a day before it became symptomatic – giving physicians a potential 24-hour jump on treating and beating the bacteria.

McGregor's team, Project Artemis, is still confirming its findings, but the group hopes that ICUs worldwide will soon begin using the data as an early-warning system, enabling babies to begin receiving lifesaving treatments more quickly and efficiently.

There is much wider potential, too. As a data monitor and cloud-based tool, McGregor sees applications for remotely monitoring late-stage, at-risk pregnancies, as well as leukemia patients with compromised immune systems. "We could be looking for infections and catching them a lot sooner," she told IT World Canada. And cutting costs.

Following the Money

Rather than accept that rising health care costs are an inevitable fact of American life, Dr. Jeffrey Brenner of Camden, New Jersey, a family physician, decided to see where all the money that went toward hospital visits was actually spent.

Using a memory drive containing the records of 600,000 hospital visits, Brenner built a map linking hospital claims to patients' addresses. Analyzing the patterns of data, he was surprised by the results: Just 1 percent of patients, or about 1,000 people, accounted for 30 percent of hospital bills – because these patients were showing up in the hospital time after time. "It was a microcosm for what's going on in the whole country," Brenner says.

"Emergency-room visits and hospital admissions should be considered failures of the health care system until proven otherwise," he told the New Yorker.

To help address costly dysfunction in the health care system, Brenner founded the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers. Using the power of data, the coalition can dispatch caseworkers to care for patients with the most problems. Once caseworkers actually began making proactive home visits and encouraging these high-risk patients to stay on their medications, the target group's hospital bills fell dramatically.

Lillian Perez, a New Jersey resident, is an example of the program's success. Over a 12-month period, she ran up $742,265 in hospital bills. She now receives regular home visits from the Camden Coalition's intervention team – whose data tell a fascinating tale: Since those visits began, Perez hasn't cost the city a single cent for another ER trip.

Editor's Note: This article by Maureen Mackey originally appeared on The Fiscal Times.

For more from The Fiscal Times:

Are Your Staff Sleeping With Their Smartphones?

The Smartphone Wars: Is Apple's Dominance Over?

Study: What Smartphone Users Don't Know About Their Bill

Follow The Fiscal Times on Twitter @TheFiscalTimes.
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