There are an estimated 2 billion smartphone users in the world and over 3 billion people with access to internet services. Like most other industries, the healthcare sector is adapting to evolving mobile technology.
Cheap and reliable internet access and powerful smartphones have paved the way for the provision of accurate information updated in real-time. The benefits of this are manifold, increasing the evidence-base upon which healthcare professionals (HCPs) can make management and treatment decisions, empowering the patient in managing their condition, liberating them from a need to present at a surgery or clinic for monitoring, providing timely diagnosis of issues and, as a result fundamentally changing the HCP-patient dynamic.
Real time monitoring of symptoms has many distinct benefits, including early ‘flagging of issues’, minimisation of the monitoring burden, an empowerment of the patient in managing their condition and a reducing the risk of missing symptoms during consultation. Two such apps are highlighted below:
- Catch My Pain: The mobile app “Catch My Pain” enables patients to create and share a record of the location and intensity of their pain on any given day. This can be used to facilitate discussions with the HCP, capturing information that may otherwise be missed. As well as empowering the patient to play a more active role in the management of their condition, this app provides access to online support communities where patients can discuss their condition and its impacts with others
- AliveCor Heart Monitor: Proving to be a godsend for those who suffer from serious cardiac illnesses, AliveCor Mobile ECG gives the user an opportunity to measure their heartbeat and produce an electrocardiogram (ECG) report that their healthcare professional can analyse straight away. The app comes with a lightweight piece of hardware that can be attached to the back of the user’s phone.
As well as monitoring symptoms, certain apps can assist with diagnosis of a disease in the first place. This is particularly true for diseases with highly visible symptoms, such as diseases of the skin and eyes:
- First Derm: For people who need the opinion of a dermatologist for a skin problem, the app First Derm is a perfect fit. The user can take a photograph of the affected area, supply any other information they consider relevant and anonymously get the professional opinion from a number of dermatologists.
As well as diagnosing and managing disease, healthcare apps also have a role in helping support a healthy lifestyle by reinforcing positive behaviours and optimal choices at the right time:
- Swap It Don't Stop It: Is an extension of the Australian Government media campaign to fight obesity. The app offers users prompts to swap their current behaviour for something more healthful, such as what kind of foods to eat, which exercises to perform and other such tips to help maintain body-weight and overall health
- Coeliac Australia Ingredient List: Accommodating a gluten intolerance has just got a whole lot more bearable with this app that provides a breakdown of the gluten content of many supermarket foods, enabling users to make more informed choices and manage their health as a result.
Studies have shown that the global market for medical apps is projected to cross $14 billion (USD) by 2020, a significant market upon which to capitalise. And, while there are many mobile healthcare apps already available, considering the diverse healthcare needs and life-styles that people have, there is likely to be much more room for innovation.