What could possibly justify spending $8,000 for an electronic mobile ultrasound device vs. $100 for a stethoscope? Keep in mind that the stethoscope will likely last a lifetime, whereas the electronic device — like my son’s iPod — may last only a couple of years before failing or becoming obsolete even sooner.

“Why would I listen to ‘lub dub’ when I can see everything?” said a doctor quoted in today’s Wall Street Journal (see “Can Mobile Monitoring Devices Improve Medical Treatment?“). “Dr. Topol, a cardiologist in San Diego, carries with him instead a portable ultrasound device roughly the size of a cellphone [see image]. When he puts it to a patient’s chest, the device allows him to peer directly into the heart. The patient looks, too; together, they check out the muscle, the valves, the rhythm, the blood flow.”

Doctors, especially cardiologists, are notorious gadget geeks, so you have to take their enthusiasm for electronic devices with a grain of salt, especially when they claim that the devices will improve health care.

“[Dr. Topol] and other physicians say the technology can not only improve diagnoses and treatment, but also revolutionize how doctors and patients think about health care. Mobile tools allow physicians to monitor vital signs, note changes in activity levels and verify that medications have been taken, without ever seeing a patient face to face.”

I wasn’t aware that physicians were even interested in “verifying that medications have been taken” let alone that they would buy expensive devices to help them do that. Most physicians don’t want to take on that responsibility and be legally liable. Also, who will pay for the service, especially when the physician makes a substantial investment in devices? The same goes for “monitoring vital signs” and other forms of monitoring patients from afar. “We’re getting virtual touch, rather than actual touch,” says Dr. Topol.

Dr. Topol “found that many [of his] patients are more willing to make lifestyle changes that keep them healthy when they can monitor the consequences of their actions in real time. A doctor can talk ‘until he’s blue in the face,’ he says, but it sometimes takes cold, hard data to motivate a patient.”

Social gaming enthusiasts disagree. “We tried to give people constant feedback about [patients’] health, but for a lot of people, more bad news and negative feedback just didn’t work,” said Adam Bosworth, the chief technology officer at Keas Inc., whose clients include Pfizer Inc. and Novartis Inc. “If you keep giving someone negative feedback, they will eventually change the channel to the game channel. One day we decided to become that game channel.” Bosworth was quoted in another Wall Street Journal article published today (see “Health Care Social Gaming Start-Ups“).

So, which technology is better for helping people change their lifestyles and improve their health? Social media games or remote monitoring devices?

Which technology is better at helping change behavior & improve health?
Mobile social gaming apps
Mobile remote monitoring devices
Both are effective.
Neither are effective.
I don’t have a clue!