Changing Face of Healthcare: The Role Mobile Apps Will Play in Medicine

frida-cooper 80By Frida Cooper

Judging by the sheer popularity of smartphones in modern times, it’s safe to say that this multi-faceted and dynamic invention may just be the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe even better, if sales figures from smartphone manufacturers are anything to go by. The Smartphone’s utility isn’t restricted to the quintessential teenager texting all day or for showing the world what you had for lunch earlier that day. The advent of smartphones and their ability to connect to the veritable hoard of information that is the Internet has revolutionized life in general and pretty much every profession on the face of this world too.

The substantial healthcare industry here in the United States is most definitely one such example. The truth of the matter, though, is that the total impact of smartphones and mobile apps hasn’t even hit the industry yet, but that’s all about to change. Traditionally, the whole dynamic between healthcare professionals and the general population was that of blind faith. The knowledge and expertise of healthcare professionals wasn’t ever questioned, for better or for worse.

The origins

Things all began to change with the advent of the Internet in households across the USA. People started to conduct research on medical maladies that they were suffering from. They started to question the choice of medication, course of treatment taken, and potential side effects. These and many other things that would have been left to the professional’s judgment but a few years earlier were being challenged now that the patient was armed with information.

Where apps fit in

Whether this situation was and is good or bad is still up for debate, but this is where this revolution originated from. When smartphones came to the fore, this situation was taken up a few notches. A study conducted by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics in 2013 pointed at over 40,000 healthcare-related apps available for download then in the iTunes App Store. Imagine how many more there are when taking platforms like Windows and Android into account. The sheer diversity of topics, too, covered under the healthcare ambit is staggering. 

The options are amazing

Take Alivecor for example. A bundle that includes a wireless mobile-connectivity capable heart monitor, the Alivecor app + hardware costs close to $80. With this app, anyone can conduct an electrocardiogram anywhere at any time! It is very user-friendly and can be used by people with a history of heart disease to monitor their health at any given time.

IsabelHealthcare is another app that’s pretty popular. This app helps doctors and patients to enter their symptoms into the database, and possible diagnoses are then received based on the information provided and how much of it finds a match in the database. Misdiagnoses are still one of the banes of the medical industry, and apps such as this can help to avert such situations. These are pretty much mainstream, hardcore medical apps. There are others, too, that aren’t so direct.

For instance, take the more offbeat healthcare profession of medical transcription. For those who are unaware of what a medical transcriptionist is, here’s a video and an infographic by Career Step to help shed some light on the subject. There are quite a few apps out there, such as OvernightScribe that have been specifically designed to do something as niche in the healthcare industry as aid the job of a medical transcriptionist.

To give you an even better idea of said diversity, there are completely patient focused apps available out there that are purpose-built to help a patient with the treatment of one particular ailment. Asthma Sense, for example, has been designed as a one-stop shop for all asthma patients to help monitor, manage and control this illness. Then there’s Glooko, an app that helps diabetes patients by recording blood sugar level data through a sync feature that is compatible with 30+ recording meters. It also provides them with stats and figures in a graph form or as numbers, and gives them access to a food database that tells them how healthy the food they’re eating is.

Adaptation is the only course of action

Apps like these, and the thousands upon thousands of others that are available out there today, mean that the landscape of the healthcare industry is shifting to a more proactive, patient-driven scenario. Medical and healthcare professionals of every kind will have to adapt to these changes for the industry to continue flourishing going forward.

Adaptation, as you will find, will be the only course of action.

__________
Frida has been working as a career guidance counselor for about 12 years. She’s stayed on top of growing industry trends through market research and interaction with young students and working professionals alike. Her hobbies include swimming, meditation and music. She believes that everyone can enjoy a lucrative career by paying close attention to their passions and aptitudes. Of late, Frida has been focused on researching work-from-home opportunities for stay-at-home moms or professionals who would like to supplement their income.

12 Responses

  1. It is inevitable that as technology evolves, so does the way we live. The important thing to remember is: it’s great to focus on the positive ways, however, be cautious and aware of how our lives could be negatively affected by it. Understanding both sides of the coin is necessary for proper progression.
    The advancement of apps can benefit your eating, sleeping, learning, and working, which are all essential in order to be happy! Quantified self is a term that helps people make choices with the data they track on apps/devices regarding their health and behavior. However, there is a downside to focusing so much on a screen or using devices. It can negatively affect our social interactions. We have all seen it: people can be so focused on the phone in their hand, it shuts out the world around them. Also, just as there are bullies in “real-life” there are bullies online. The best way to treat these trolls is to ignore them. Unhappy people always want the rest of the world to be unhappy… so be aware of your own behavior and create a balance of your time online and offline :)

    • Hi Janet, I believe everything has a positive and a negative side. And as you said we must focus on the positive ones, this article is about the positive effects of the technology on our lives. I hope this will help the patients, the people in healthcare and around us. :)

  2. There’s no doubt that mobile devices with health related mobile apps have changed the landscape for health care and medicine. The caution is that we’re not all experts in the field and we can’t just trust our own self-diagnostics without consulting a medical profession. With that said, I could not be happier with the extension of wearables in the Android and iOS arenas. With wearable, we now take the self diagnostics one step further by monitoring our health via a smart watch and various applications. We’ll not only be able to get our pulse at any time, but diabetics can get their glucose readings, we can track readings over time, and other various types of vital statistical information.

  3. In general, giving people the tools to find out more about themselves and inform their decisions is likely to be a positive thing. However, we start to run into problems when ignorance comes into the picture. A big part of making informed choices is being informed about the information being used to make the choice. Let us not forget the importance of sound methodology being essential in the research and development process, or how often methodology is altogether ignored by consumers of information.

    Several questions popped into my head as I was reading this posting:

    Who is creating these apps being used to inform people’s medical decisions? Trained medical professionals or some teenager who wants a good grade in computer science class? (I personally know 10-year-olds who can create decent-looking apps.)

    How exactly are these potential diagnoses identified?

    What types of questions are being asked? Are the questions relevant and comprehensive, or subjective and easily misunderstood by “Average Joe”?

    Was testing conducted on the app? How so?

    How often are the results inaccurate? What are the potential repercussions of the app giving inaccurate information and a person taking inappropriate actions (or failing to take appropriate ones)?

    Apps, like other types of technology, are tools. As caught up in the hype of it all as we are, we must not forget this simple fact. Yes, they are powerful tools, but tools they remain. It’s the brain behind the tool that really matters, and when that brain lacks an understanding of the tool, it makes the likelihood of misuse and abuse increase. Unfortunately, people tend to get hurt when powerful tools are not handled properly.

    A doctor goes through all those years of college, medical school, residencies, and professional development for a very good reason: medicine is complex and one decision can make the difference between life and death. Does this mean that we should never question doctors? Of course not. We need to know, question, and be sure that they know what they are doing just like we need to understand anyone or anything else we use to make important decisions. But let’s not lose sight of reality either: that medical degree, national board certification, and license to practice medicine do actually mean something.

    Bottom line: before entrusting something as important as one’s health to an app, use some common sense.

    • Hi Michael, all your questions are legitimate. The brains behind these apps really matters, but most of the apps these days are not directly prescribing something to the user they are basically making suggestions regarding different medical conditions and as different pharmaceutical companies and big healthcare giants are also investing in this, I think they are researching enough. But I’ll definitely say to consult with the doctor before proceeding with any suggestions made by the app. I must say I really like the way you think and I think the app developers must also think about these aspects and then only proceed to make such apps which directly involves patients health if they are 100% sure about it.

  4. One year, when I was in grade school, I kept all my school excuse notes and figured out that I would get sick every three months. My pediatrician didn’t notice the pattern, so I brought it up and was immediately brushed off as a hypochondriac. If the applications that are available today for keeping track of health were available back then I’m sure I’d have some proof for my doctor. We might even find some correlations between my illnesses and help prevent them. Therefore, I definitely think healthcare professionals should start integrating healthcare mobile applications into their practices. Although, I am pro-adaptation, I think that the integration should begin slowly because health applications and their wearables are still in developmental stages as evident in The Measured Life (http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/424390/the-measured-life/). Healthcare professionals should review the application and literature before suggesting one for their patient. Additionally, healthcare professionals should read their colleagues’ thoughts on applications through free websites like iMedicalApps (www.imedicalapps.com).

  5. One thing that has always fascinated me was the act of sleeping. My interest in it probably stems from the fact that I don’t get much of it myself, but I recently read an article (http://mashable.com/2014/07/23/sleep-better-apps/) reviewing ten apps to help with sleep. Most of the apps focused on providing calming sounds and noises to aid in relaxation or to keep someone sleeping. One app (Relax & Sleep at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/relax-sleep-well-by-glenn/id412690467) tries to hypnotize you and another (Long Deep Breathing at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/long-deep-breathing/id337291691) focuses on breathing techniques. These were interesting but I felt they never helped individuals understand how they slept. Lately I have noticed more apps and wearable fitness trackers or other technology (https://hello.is/) focusing on monitoring and reporting data on one’s sleep pattern and habits—this seems to be the evolutionary next step to noise making-hypnosis generation of apps. Consider the data analytics involved here: the apps and some device to collect the data would be able to provide users, researchers and consumers, with trend data to help improve overall sleep. Examining the raw data and helping users draw some basic conclusions and allow them to know more and sleep better.

  6. Initially, while reading this post, I was critical of the mobile health applications that have been released to the market. It is important to be informed and proactive about one’s health and body. However, I can see these application being dangerous, as well. Ultimately, the average person should not be self-diagnosing themselves. People who have medical licenses should not even self-diagnose. The potential problem with these apps are that people will come to their own conclusions without understanding a full picture. Our bodies are very complex instruments. So, it is common that our symptoms will be present, but they could indicate a number of causes. It is also possible that there could be multiple causes. For example, many people who claim they have an anxiety disorder, they do not realize that they are also suffering from depression. So, it is best to utilize these health apps with appropriate supervision from a health care provider. After all, they went through years and years of school for this.

    After reading the article, I was also left with a sense of excitement after reading about some of the innovative applications that exist. It made me realize that there are many apps that can truly help patients. The AliveCor and Glooko applications stood out to me because they could be useful and effective for people in my life. The ability to monitor and “quantify” certain health conditions can be life-changing. My partner has diabetes, and the ability to monitor his blood glucose levels might help him to maintain a safe and healthy level. This in the long-term could potentially help to ease the effects on his internal organs. I have a heart condition and having access to ECG readings is incredible. I will definitely be purchasing this application. It will allow me to monitor my heart, whereas prior to this technology, I would have to go by “feeling”. This could possibly save my life. So, there are real positive outcomes that can come from the changing face of health care with mobile apps.

  7. […] tell me something I don’t already know? Maybe. Many of these devices (right now) seem to cater to people wanting it for health benefits – for example, tracking steps, heart rate, and sleep patterns. I see […]

  8. […] and learn how to change your habits to live healthier or prevent your illness from worsening.  (Cooper, 2015).  This reminded me of a friend’s kick starter business that she just launched last month. […]

  9. […] Role Mobile Apps Will Play in Medicine. Educational Technology and Change Journal. Retieved from https://etcjournal.com/2015/02/17/changing-face-of-healthcare-the-role-mobile-apps-will-play-in-medic… 2.) Miller, T., & Spiegel, B. B. (2015, February 16). Can A Computer Change The Essence Of Who […]

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