November 6, 2012

Mobile Health Apps – so much more than diet and fitness

Written By Martin Sandhu

If you browse through any mobile or tablet app store the offerings under the health category are invariably all about fitness, diet or BMI, perhaps with the odd sleep monitor thrown in for good measure. But digital apps are changing the face of the health industry across the globe through more than simply helping us track our calories and exercise. MobiHealthNews editor Brian Dolan noted: “(A) persistent trend is that the majority of these apps are focused on tracking fitness or diet. There are two or three new BMI calculators released every month, for example – and far fewer are focused on what most people would consider true health problems, like chronic conditions or chronic condition management.”

There are now over 40,000 medical apps available for smartphones and tablets, ranging from those that help you plan pregnancy to those which can test your sight. Despite their seeming lack of popularity currently, experts predict that ehealth technology will revolutionise the medical industry over the next few years.

Whilst ‘tracking’ apps offer a great solution for those wishing to remain fit and healthly, other more sophisticated software is helping users spot the early signs of serious conditions, which could mean the difference between a simple operation and lengthy treatment. SkinVision tracks the suns UV levels using location data and is able to analyse images of moles uploaded by the user to monitor the possibility of skin cancer.

Scientists in America are currently working on an iPhone app which, through the phones speaker,  will recognise the cause of a users cough and alert them as to whether it is serious or otherwise. And the NHS has recently produced an app-version of its online symptom checker NHS Direct. As smartphones and tablets now go everywhere with their user, this access to services and information is an essential tool for everyday life and peace of mind.

Such eclinical advances take pressure off local GPs and encourage users to self-diagnose before deciding whose professional advice to seek. Whilst in the past some experts have raised concerns over users diagnosing the wrong or worse problems, the technology, level of instruction and detail these apps now maintain mean that risk is reducing.

The apps can work in reverse too, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley recently proposed to GPs that they recommend apps to their patients in order to aid them in their recovery or the day-to-day management of their illness. Encouraging patients to track blood pressure or a diabetic to keep a food diary via their phone gives GPs easy access to vital information which can be shared and stored.

Ehealth technology is also becoming increasingly popular internally in medical practices and hospitals. The portability of tablets and the ease of access is enabling the ‘point of care’ to be less fixed to one location and encourages much less paperwork.