Headlines: June 15th, 2004

Family doctors may soon be able to check on a patient’s recovery after a stay in hospital by sending mobile phone text messages. In an article in today’s edition of BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, researchers describe how they have developed and tested a wireless monitoring system that could help detect changes in a patient’s symptoms at a distance.They say keeping up-to-date with a patient’s condition once they have left hospital can help doctors to detect suffering earlier and allow them ‘to activate a well-timed intervention’. The team, from Italy, also say that the growing use of mobile phones and the Internet by people in general provides ‘important new methods for communication between doctor and patient.’The researchers from Reply-planeT, an Italian company offering integrated communication services, and from the Istituto Nazionale Tumori in Milan, say their Wireless Health Outcomes Monitoring System – WHOMS could reduce the need to use printed questionnaires in monitoring the health and quality of life of patients and that this should make doctor-patient communication easier.

The system allows doctors to send short questionnaires to patients’ mobiles. The questions can be answered using the phone keypad and returned direct to the physician without either party leaving their chairs. Questionnaire results are collated automatically and presented to doctors on a secure web page. A graphic display of a patient’s information gives doctors a quick overview of how their symptoms are evolving. For any patient with seriously modified symptoms, a flashing light will appear by their name, enabling doctors to prioritise cases in serious need.

The system has been tested using 97 cancer patients from the Istituto in Milan. All the patients who attempted to complete the ten-question survey about their state of health did so successfully using their mobile phones. However, 42 per cent of those asked to take part in the trial refused, mostly due to their inexperience with using mobile phones.