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Lots of Americans Want Health Care Via Smartphone

But all too often, the demand outpaces the technology to deliver it, Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll finds

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 18 (HealthDay News) -- Plenty of Americans are eager to use their mobile phones and tablet computers to better manage their health care, a new poll finds -- though the nation has a way to go before we're all consulting Dr. Smartphone.

In a Harris Interactive/HealthDay survey released Tuesday, more than one-third of respondents who are online said they were "very" or "extremely" interested in using smartphones or tablets to ask their doctors questions, make appointments or get medical test results.

Similar numbers of respondents were eager to use mobile phones and tablets for actual health-care services -- such as monitoring blood pressure or blood sugar, or even getting a diagnosis. Such phone and tablet apps are, however, either just getting off the ground or not yet on the market.

The survey results show that the demand for digital assists to health care is "strong and likely to grow," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll.

But he added that big questions remain: What types of services will consumers be able to get with their mobile devices, and when?

"The devil will surely be in the details," Taylor said, "and these are very big details."

An expert in health-care information agreed. "Right now, we're looking at a patchwork system," said Titus Schleyer, who heads the Center for Biomedical Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, based at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.

Companies are developing a number of apps that, along with equipment attached to your phone or tablet, can help diagnose everything from ear infections and eye diseases to irregular heartbeats and malaria. One goal is to bring better health care to remote parts of the world.

But there are already apps out there designed for the masses -- including ones to manage your blood pressure or blood sugar readings, for example. You take the reading via a monitor that plugs into your smartphone, and the app records all the information, which can then be e-mailed to your doctor or sent to your electronic health record, Schleyer said.

Of course, your doctor has to have the systems in place to do something with that information. And, Schleyer added, depending on where you live, and what health system you're in, that may or may not be the reality.

Schleyer said he has first-hand experience with the obstacles. His wife found an app that let her record and organize her blood pressure readings, only to discover that her smartphone "couldn't talk" to their health-care system's portal.

She ended up just bringing her smartphone to her doctor's visit.

"This poll shows us that the public is interested in using these apps," Schleyer said. "But the health-care system has to make it easier for them to do it."

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