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May 2013

Mobile Tools Boost Care
By Maura Keller
For The Record
Vol. 25 No. 8 P. 8

As smartphones continue to make inroads within the medical arena, key strides are being made to utilize the technology for patient care in unique and vital ways.

When it comes to chemical dependency, smartphones can be used as a tool for addiction monitoring and treatment. For example, Eagle Advancement Institute in West Bloomfield, Michigan, recently began using Internet and smartphone technology to implement its Clarity Continuing Care program that focuses on both short- and long-term recovery for those addicted to opiates.

“The short-term intervention is built around a detoxification protocol,” says Ricardo Borrego, MD, a board-certified anesthesiologist at Eagle Advancement Institute. “As part of the long-term recovery process, support groups are enabled and made available through secure Web conferencing. Eagle also has a highly secure smartphone app for Apple- or Android-based phone operating systems that allows patients to self-report, access scheduling information for personal or group meetings, and access physicians to update prescriptions or ask other questions relative to their ongoing treatment and recovery.”

The Clarity process is most beneficial to adult patients who are still leading high-functioning lives and may find traditional services impractical because of schedule or geographic constraints, Borrego says. For example, a white-collar executive with an addiction to pain medication may be too busy for an in-person visit. “The Clarity opioid-addiction reversal and recovery program is not structured to monitor drug use,” he says. “Rather, it is a technology-enabled process designed to support patients through the recovery process.”

Unlike replacement therapy-based programs that ultimately transfer an addict from heroin or OxyContin to an alternative substance, such as methadone or buprenorphine, Borrego says the Clarity process helps patients to pursue a drug-free life. “This is done through an initial outpatient procedure to cleanse the body; immediate initiation of extended-release naltrexone therapy, which prevents opioid receptors from being activated even if an opioid-based substance is taken; and highly flexible access to ongoing counseling support enabled by Internet and mobile technologies for a period of one year,” he explains.

According to Borrego, the Clarity process is a next-generation therapy engineered for safety and efficacy throughout the entire spectrum of the recovery process. It has averaged an 80% success rate, which is approximately four times greater than the industry average, he notes. One year after initial treatment, patients are monitored via an independent third party to verify they are living drug free.

Combining the use of Internet and smartphone technology with substance abuse treatment means privacy is a top concern for patients and practitioners alike. “The Clarity aftercare program was designed with successful professionals in mind,” Borrego says. “The Web conferencing and mobile application were both engineered to be highly secure and allow patients to experience their treatment follow up in a discrete and private manner. It is our hope that this type of treatment will provide a new and successful option in an industry where the societal stigma of addiction and low success rate of available therapies has resulted in a large and underserved patient population.”

Physiologic Monitoring
While mobile and Internet technologies are helping patients overcome addiction, they also are making it easier for healthy individuals to keep track of vital physiological data.

Mobile health monitoring devices have become popular among sports and fitness aficionados who wear the gadgets for conditioning and weight management purposes. No doubt swayed by this trend, more physicians have become interested in utilizing similar mobile devices to monitor their patients’ physiological data and provide real-time feedback.

While hospitals and other health care organizations are taking advantage of networking technology to improve the quality of their services, patients also are benefiting from networking advances, according to Jim Gerrity, director of global industry marketing at Ciena, a network specialist company.

“For example, patients are using smartphones and tablets to take control of their own health care via mobile applications that can monitor blood pressure and glucose levels or heart rate levels during physical activity to help reduce risk of heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity,” he says. “These mobile platforms can be connected wirelessly to physiologic monitors worn on a patient’s body or embedded into a patient’s garment and require only minimal space.”

Mobile monitoring devices are making a splash within the medical community as patients and physicians embrace the idea of “health care on the go.” According to the IMS Research report “World Market for Wearable Technology — a Quantitative Market Assessment 2012,” wearable technology revenues are expected to exceed $6 billion by 2016, with medical and wellness applications at the forefront of the growth.

“With ubiquitous Internet access, patients can communicate and consult with physicians in real time via their mobile device,” Gerrity says. For example, mobile monitoring allows patients to make baseline measurements at any time, resulting in a database of information from which health care providers can detect possible health concerns.

To make mobile physiologic monitoring more appealing, health care providers, technology developers, and patients agree the devices need to be nonintrusive, easy to use, comfortable, energy efficient, and privacy compliant. Gerrity says one of the biggest benefits of mobile health care monitoring is that it can eliminate the laborious long-distance travel that many patients must endure to receive care from specialists.

“With the rising adoption of consumer applications like FaceTime, Google Circles, and Skype, video communications have increasingly become a mainstream consumer activity,” he notes. “When in-person assessments are required, follow-up visits can be accomplished through video interaction via one of the aforementioned applications. In fact, in 2012, 800 million webcams were shipped, doubling the amount in 2011.”

There also are economic benefits to using mobile phones to monitor physiologic data. According to economist Robert Litan, remote monitoring technologies could save as much as $197 billion over the next 25 years in the United States. What’s more, real-time management of chronic diseases can help providers keep closer tabs on a patient’s progress, a potential money-saver in the long run.

— Maura Keller is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.