Doctor explains, rates medical and health smartphone apps

- Anesthesiologist Dr. David Samuels loves gadgets and said he uses them every day in the operating room, at work, and at home - using a dedicated smartphone. 

He shared some of his favorites with FOX 13, starting with the Health Mate app from Withings. The app collects information from a compatible blood pressure cuff, watch and scale and allows you follow daily changes.

Someday, he believes, a smaller device under development, called Scanadu, could replace the cumbersome cuff.  Instead of wrapping around your arm, Scanadu is held up to the forehead measuring blood pressure, temperature and oxygen levels.

Another favorite, also in the testing phase, is made by Masimo.  The company is known to healthcare and provides equipment that's been used in hospitals and by paramedics in the field, for years. 

This special app acts like a pulse oximeter, emitting a telltale sound as oxygen saturation rises and falls.  Samuels says, what's even more exciting about what this app, is its ability to monitor something called the perfusion index.

If it's cleared by the FDA, this device could impact patient care.

"I can tell how deeply anesthetized someone is because this number starts to rise as I give them anesthesia," Dr. Samuels explained while pointing to numbers on his phone. "And as they're awakening, if they have pain... this number goes down. So, anesthesiologists, for years, have been trying to measure encephalograms, get some sort of monitor to see how deep or light they are. This is actually better than all the other devices I've seen." 

While other devices await clearance by the FDA, the Alive Cor app already has it. It operates using a small, smart phone attachment you can purchase for about $100.00 at your local pharmacy. 

Users place fingers on two small metal plates about the size of large postage stamps, and the smartphone records the equivalent of lead I on an EKG. 

"It's very accurate, sometimes more easy to read than what I have in the operating room and it's real. It's not a gimmick. It sends the message to the phone by a very unique thing by ultrasonic high frequency sound, so it's not using blue tooth, it’s not using Wi-Fi," he said. 

It's so accurate, he's diagnosed three friends with heart rhythm problems they didn't know they had. He says the $80 device saved one of them thousands. Using the monitor, he was able to break the very rapid heart rate by massaging the patients neck.  
"I started pressing on it and the heart rate went from 300, and I’m pressing a little harder, a little harder, little harder, and he said, 'oh it stopped,'" he remembers. 

The proof of his success was right there on his screen.

Dr. Samuels says the maneuver saved the healthcare system thousands of dollars by keeping him out of the hospital emergency room.

The EKG tracing was then sent to a cardiologist who fixed the problem with without surgery. 

It's important to remember to look for FDA clearance before using an app to monitor health. According to the March 2 JAMA Internal Medicine, an app called Instant Blood Pressure was found to be inaccurate. Although the app is no longer available, the authors say it was downloaded more than 100,000 times. 

Moving forward, as apps become more apropos and undergo the rigors of FDA clearance, Dr. Samuels predicts much of healthcare will shift from hospitals to homes. A transformation ushered in by technology.  

Ranging from mirrors with sensors to gauge your skin color and blood flow, to scales that may measure weight and balance; he says it's only a matter of time before a trip to your bathroom will detect when you're healthy, and when you're not.

"We'll be able to make great in roads into how we live our lives rather than these intermittent tests that we get at the doctor or at the hospital. We're going to have continuous studies on how we're doing and how things affect us and we'll get to that personalized medicine," he says.

He even foresees a time when sensors in our toilets will perform urine studies, and even check for evidence of colon cancer. 

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