Consumer electronics 'disrupting healthcare'

Doctors are using iPad apps - but they haven't been through proper trials? Could it be a problem?

Consumer electronics is disrupting healthcare. That's the conclusion of John Eaglesham, of the Advanced Digital Institute, speaking at this week's Future World Symposium at Wembley Stadium.

"Traditionally eHeath has mentioned expensive, heavyweight, institution based IT sustems. There's been little use of [such] technology by people outside of healthcare. But now professionals are using their own devices – remember doctors are consumers too. This isn't the future, it has started already."

"People expect to bring their own laptops, iPads and the medical system is no different. Doctors love iPads. There's a company called iED - two consultants who have developed apps for certain conditions such as what to do when you have an unconscious child or there's been an overdose. Doctors can get to the right treatment in three clicks. It's not been through any medical trials, approvals or anything. It's had 500,000 downloads and costs £1.99.

"Really they're just bypassing the institutional IT systems. It truly is disruptive." Where's it going? "There's no limit to the way these devices can be used. Where can it go wrong? These aren't approved – there are obviously real safety issues with using your own devices for medical purposes, but it's clear the desire is there. How do you take a general purpose device and lock it down?

Eaglesham said it was too late to stop self-diagnosis in patients too – citing 'Dr Google' as the core factor at work here.

Is self-care the answer?

Paul Thomas of Microsoft's Industry Innovations Group was more pie-in-the-sky about the future of digital healthcare. "We're thinking of the idea of a device that could be a mobile phone but could share information to a screen. The idea of the wallpaper becoming the screen. The data that [is collected would] just flow in and out of the health service."

"To me it's really about relationships, how technology can promote stronger relationships within the informal care network. We see there's a huge un-met need in the public."

Thomas talked about how a direct patient-health service would be the best approach, saying that different organisations and sectors had not worked closely enough together despite many years of supposed innovation in eHealth.

"When we've tried this spaghetti approach or middleware hubs, I don't think we've made a lot of progress in 23 years."

"To some extent we've been testing out whether the cloud and storing your own health information can help with assisted living in the UK – we've been looking at how we can help people to be independent. One of the things we've found is that there's a big issue around trust. We've looked at how you can engender greater trust through privacy and use of the internet."

What about the practicalities?

Keith Errey, CEO of Isansys, says we need to take a step back and think about the practicalities of such smart equipment in our hospitals. "As cool as the latest smartphones and new methods for clinical development are, but what about when they end up in the bin? How do they work with cleaning cycles, dirty bandages – where do you put all those electrodes on somebody who has cycrusis of the skin? What is your product going to look like when it's subject to that?

"It's a kind of misleading approach to what is required here. If it is a healthcare device, there's also a lot of regulatory effort needed."

Thomas also warned about the danger of false negatives (wrong diagnoses) and talked of innovations such as the NHS Direct app actually being too cautious of making a wrong diagnosis. "I think there's a definite tension between what health providers see as being the net best thing versus concerns of liability."


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.