The first mobile health applications were extensions of lifestyle apps. Consumers could use them for counting calories, keeping track of diet and fitness routines or even for help with quitting smoking. However, with smart phone usage gaining popularity the number of possibilities has increased tremendously. From tracking prescription refills and drug dosage reminders to monitoring patients’ recovery at home, health apps are now acting as an extension of telemedicine where the patients can get medical advice using their phone. Gartner has named mobile health applications as one of the top ten consumer applications of 2012. There is also a host of medical apps that are targeted at doctors and physicians. All this is setting a new trend in healthcare that empowers both patients and doctors.
1. Constant communication with doctors
Apps such as Facetime and Skype are already being used to communicate with people from across the world. In the future, a patient could contact his doctor from anywhere in the world for advice or diagnosis, by uploading a screenshot of a lesion or for relaying symptoms of an ailment. This would do away with the need for appointments and long waits in clinics. Of course, before this happens, suitable mechanisms have to be put in place so that doctors get paid for every consultation. HealthTap, which recently launched a new suite of applications for iOS and Android devices, allows users to get medical questions answered by a network of 2000 licensed doctors in the US. Plans are on the way to introduce in the near future a paid service that permits online consultations.
2. Easy access to data
With the trend towards electronic medical records (EMR), doctors can easily access patient data and reduce wait times as there is no need to search and locate a patient’s file physically. This could not only help save lives in cases of emergency, where every second counts, but also help for more routine requirements such as getting prescription refills. For doctors, apps could do away with the need for medical reference books. For instance, Epocrates, an app that provides doctors an easy mobile source of reference for information related to drugs, diseases and other information, can help to access medical information when away from the clinic.
iPad Medical App
3. Mobile Metrics
Smartphones make it easy to capture metrics, which can be used for tracking a patient’s progress. However, this is one area where regulations will be needed for apps and accessories, in order to ensure safety for patients. In the US, the FDA has plans underway to oversee the subset of apps that would affect patient health if they don’t deliver what they promise. From monitoring heartbeat in real time (rather than in a controlled environment) to measuring blood sugar levels through glucometers inbuilt into phones, the possibilities are endless in terms of providing patients better in-home care at reduced costs.
4. Remote Diagnosis
With the possibility of uploading to the cloud using smart phones, artificial intelligence can be used by physicians in the US for helping patients in Africa, India or China. A doctor or health worker could capture and upload images or lab results, send them to the cloud and get a diagnosis from an expert in another country. Already, there is an app that helps Cantonese and Mandarin speaking patients from China communicate with English speaking doctors for advice on medical problems.
Medical-App-Blood-Sugar Clearly, the present range of medical and health apps is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the possibilities for practical solutions in healthcare. From medical apps that help doctors perform more effectively to consumer apps that allow users to get cheaper and better access to healthcare and medical information, the mobile healthcare sector is poised for growth. According to research company, Technavio, the mobile health apps market will grow to 4.1 bilion by 2014 (from 1.7 billion in 2010).