InstaMD is a startup that’s aiming to revolutionize the way that patients interact with their medical practitioners. The company hopes to spearhead a movement in which patients play an active role in their healthcare.
To facilitate this, the firm is developing a series of high-tech interfaces for common diagnostic tools, beginning with the stethoscope. However, the company’s goals have been met with some skepticism. Chief among the concerns: will patients take an active role in monitoring their own vitals on a regular basis?
InstaMD’s first device, the Multi-Use Headset, looks like any other headset, except for two small holes on either side. To use the headset, you simply plug your stethoscope into the holes via the earpieces, and the headset digitally amplifies any sounds that come their way.
InstaMD claims that the headset captures sounds from the heart, lungs and GI tract in high fidelity and amplifies those sounds without adding noise. The user can relay those sounds to their smartphone or computer simply by plugging the headset into the device’s audio jack.
The device, invented by Dr. Subbarao Myla, is being marketed with the slogan “low cost, convenient and uncomplicated access to healthcare.” Indeed, the headset appears easy to use and is presented to the user in the form of technology that they’re already accustomed to using. Still, it’s in the interplay between the headset and the computer or mobile device where things become really interesting.
One of the Multi-Use Headset’s primary selling points is that it connects to the cloud, allowing patients to upload 10-second audio clips to a secure database. The patient can then share these clips with their doctors via a special Web link or email. Meanwhile, the software compares these clips over time, identifying trends that can help doctors detect problems before they become life threatening. For some, such as those who suffer from arrhythmia without knowing it, this intervention could prove life saving.
The app also features a real-time video module that allows patients to interact with their doctors in real time. Live-in nurses may find this feature particularly useful as they will have immediate access to doctors in an emergency.
Criticisms and Concerns
However, some medical practitioners have raised concerns that could prove to be substantial barriers to adoption. For instance, not every family has a stethoscope in their home, and because InstaMD plans to only sell the headset, medical professionals doubt that patients will be willing to pay upwards of $150 for a high-quality stethoscope to use with the system.
InstaMD claims that patients can use the system with any stethoscope, but inexpensive stethoscopes may not provide the acoustic sensitivity required for deep digital analysis. Additionally, there is real concern over whether patients can reliably use a stethoscope on themselves, even with remote guidance from doctors. This is particularly the case with the elderly. However, there is widespread agreement that the system may be readily adopted by live-in nurses and in nursing homes. In the hands of a trained professional who know the danger signs of various illnesses, the system could indeed provide an edge.