How many calories have you ingested since last night at 9:35 pm? How many steps have you taken in the last 20 minutes? How many calories did those steps burn? What's your heart rate right now? How many hours of sleep did you really get last night? You don't know?
You will soon enough.
The real-time Web, though we often think of it in terms of websites like Twitter or Facebook, is changing the way we eat, exercise, sleep and more. And, soon enough, it will make that in-patient stay or doctor's office visit a thing of the past.
If there's one thing we can be certain of, it's that we all have a favorite topic in common - ourselves. While social networks and Web 2.0 sites like YouTube cater to our egos and our desire for social interaction, a whole new breed of real-time websites and smartphone apps are emerging that will let us study ourselves like never before. But beyond self fascination, these apps will change the way doctors observe and diagnose their patients, and give them entirely new ways of monitoring any number of medical indicators and managing chronic diseases.
Real-Time Web and Mobile Monitoring
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"There's a ton of interest in apps for smartphones right now," Dolan said. "That's where a lot of the buzz has been."
According to Dolan, more than a quarter of the apps in the iPhone App Store's health and medicine category are for health care professionals, and we'll likely see more of this in the future, as remote monitoring becomes more commonplace. Apple's own patent application for an embedded iPhone heart rate monitor is likely just the first step, for example.
One company, AirStrip Technologies, offers doctors a way to have real-time information about their patients streamed to them on their smartphones, giving them the ability to closely monitor their patients from wherever they are. But even this is just a first step, according to Dolan.
"Right now, you're in the hospital and you have dozens of wires hanging off of you," Dolan said. "There's tons of companies trying to simplify that, with something that's essentially a band-aid that's wireless."
I Can Sleep Better Than You Can...This sort of wireless remote monitoring is the next step, and already there are examples. Zeo, for example, is a "personal sleep coach" app that works by having the user wear a headband at night that measures the electrical activity of the wearer's brain. This information is sent wirelessly to a bedside unit that writes the data to an SD card, which can then be transferred to a computer for analysis. Zeo then uses this data to let its users analyze their sleep patterns in a multitude of ways and also offers them a "personalized sleep coaching program". Zeo even allows its users to compete with each other, seeing who can achieve better sleep patterns. Who knew even sleep could be competitive?
Can You Breathe Here Now?Beyond constant self-monitoring, the real-time Web is changing the medical and health fields on a larger, macro level as well, with crowdsourced solutions like Asthmapolis. The program uses a GPS device called a Spiroscout that can be mounted on an inhaler to determine the time and location when an inhaler is used. This information is then collected on a central server and used to "map and track asthma symptoms, triggers, and your use of rescue and controller medications". Beyond offering a personal diary of asthma attacks, however, Asthmapolis is working with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention to "map and characterize asthma in rural areas of the Midwest."
Should I Stay or Should I Go?Aside from monitoring, the real-time Web can merge together data in even more ways to provide us with useful information in relation to our health and well-being. iTriage, for example, will not only diagnose the seriousness of a medical problem according to the symptoms you provide, but it will help you determine the appropriate health care facility nearest you, even giving turn-by-turn GPS directions. In some parts of the country, iTriage even provides ambulance and emergency room wait times in order to help you decide on the best plan of action.
The Future of the Real-Time Web and MedicineThere are still a few hurdles remaining for the real-time Web in the medical realm. As Dolan points out, the medical field can be slow to adopt some of these technologies for a number of reasons. Many doctors, he said, still use pagers because they are more reliable. The iPhone, for example, will stop ringing after a certain point, whereas a pager can be set to keep buzzing away until the wearer responds. Cell network coverage is far from ubiquitous, also, while pagers are more or less fail-safe. And then there's the Food and Drug Administration, which could be quite an impediment for some mobile, real-time technologies.
Nonetheless, the reality is that next time we ask how many calories you ate since last night or what your resting heart rate is, you'll likely have an answer. And if you don't, we'll likely tell you that, indeed, there is an app for that.