Giving Birth - There's An App For That

It seems like these days there is an application on the IPhone for pretty much everything: buying movie tickets, picking the right restaurant, doing your taxes, but giving birth? Isn't that going a little too far? The application, AirStrip OB, doesn't actually help the mother deliver the baby herself, but it does give her physician information to let him know how the mother is doing while in labor without needing to be in the room. According to a recent press release, the application delivers "patient waveform data" to remotely access fetal heart rate and maternal contraction patterns directly from the hospital labor and delivery unit to a doctor's smart phone in real time. The doctor is also able to access patient information including nursing notes, vital signs and order results. The application was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 and works with a variety of smart phones including Blackberry and IPhone. However, the application doesn't come cheap - to use it, a hospital must pay a one time fee of $25,000 with an annual fee of $7,500.

Proponents of the application say that the application allows doctors to see more patients, expediates the birthing process, and cuts down on the medical errors caused by faulty phone communication between the doctor and staff . Doctors using the application also praise the application for allowing them to stay in surgery tending to another patient without having to leave and worry about the condition of another as they can check on the patient through their phone. For example, according to one user, Dr. Robert Smith,
"If I'm in the OR finishing up surgery and I've got someone in labor, I don't have to leave the OR. If they need a C-section, I can have them prepped and sent up. It expedites the whole process." So far, information as to how widespread usage of the application is unavailable, however the makers of the application expect that remote monitoring of patients by smartphone will be the way of the future.

I don't know about you, but this application makes me slightly nervous. While I am all for new technology that could make medicine safer, I'm afraid that this technology may be abuse by physicians that just don't want to take the time to see their patients. Furthermore, although the application was approved by the FDA, who is to say that it is always 100% reliable. We have all had trouble receiving cell-phone reception, had our phones die, or had mechanical glitches. If even one cell phone mistakenly scrambles the information being sent via this application, a patient may suffer as her doctor is relying on it. What if the application does not relay the fetal heart rate correctly and a C-section is needed? If a doctor is relying on the application, the mother and child could suffer serious complications. I also think that this application will severely cut down on doctor-patient interactions during one of the most important moments of a woman's life. While doctors may praise the application for allowing them to see more patients, I think that they should think about the patient that is being remotely monitored and whether or not she wants to see her doctor face-to-face while she is in labor. Chances are, she wishes that her doctor was right there with her and not just checking his cell-phone from time to time.
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