Death of the "Dumbphone"

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | May 01, 2012
From the May 2012 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

DOTmed Business News editor-in-chief Sean Ruck and I happen to be among the few people I know who are still "dumbphone" holdouts. My $12 Nokia is the type of disposable, single-use phone that drug dealers on the show on "The Wire" called burners (i.e. cell phones meant to be thrown away immediately after making a sale). If I take it out in an elevator, people stare at it the way they would if they saw a Model T Ford on the road. It might as well have a hand crank.

So while reporting on a talk by telecom executive Don Jones at the ninth annual World Health Care Congress, I felt a bit left out.

In his speech, Jones, who's a vice president at Qualcomm Life, talked up how wireless devices were going to change health care. In particular, new apps and gadgets are helping transform iPhones and Android devices into portable, personal heart monitors. For instance, one company called Alive-Cor, which Qualcomm has invested in through a venture fund, is working on turning the iPhone into a single-read ECG. The product, which is expected to go for under a hundred bucks, is a simple case you attach to a standard iPhone, and that runs with an app you can download. It still needs to get approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but Jones said a pilot study showed it was useful at picking up previously undiagnosed heart conditions. In one case, a plane even made an emergency landing after the device discovered a study participant was having some kind of attack.

So it's cool, and could potentially save your life (if the clinical evidence is proven in other studies and it isn't shown to produce a mess of false positives). Plus, as there will be as many mobile devices as people by the end of the year (about 7 billion), it's the kind of thing that one day might be more accessible to people in poor countries than a somewhat most costly Holter monitor. Jones said, after all, more people in the world have a cellular connection than running water.

So, as Sean and I get older and find ourselves needing heart checkups, maybe we will be forced, at last, to upgrade our phones.

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