Consumer Health Apps
August 10th 2012 · 0 Comments
It’s a Big World Out There
Currently there are almost 14,000 apps for your smartphone or tablet. By the time you are reading this, there will be more.
It’s also an expensive world out there. For a measly $300, I can download a complete guide to these apps and take you through the amazing maze of health apps. Well, that’s not going to happen.
Alternatively, I could assist you nice folks by downloading them at an average of two bucks a shot. Well, that comes to $28,000 and several months of research. Yup, that ain’t gonna happen either.
A Guide to Consumer Apps
What I can do is break down the apps into categories. Mobile health applications come in a variety of flavors. There are apps for Cardio, Fitness, Diet, Stress (I could use one now), Strength Training, Women’s Health, Mental Health (see Stress app above), Chronic Conditions, Calculators, Sleep, Emergency Care, Smoking Cessation, and Medication Adherence.
We already know that doctors don’t want you using apps. 64% of physicians “worry that ‘mHealth’ makes patients too independent.”
With mobile technology, “consumers are now empowered with information on price, services, wait times, and quality. So they start making decisions like they would in any other marketplace.” So says Paul Cerrato, Editor of InformationWeek Healthcare.
A Marketplace? That’s exactly what medicine isn’t. It is exactly what medicine should be. Yes, you can comparison shop for your own coronary artery bypass. The tools are there. First comes skill, and then comes costs. You can get both. Many get neither. Your relationship with your doctors should be a transaction not a genuflection.
One Doctor Under God (sometimes)
We doctors don’t like to give up our independence. We don’t want lose our lofty prestige and elitism that’s ranked (at least by us) as just under the clergy’s. Some of us think of ourselves higher than the clergy. You know…the clergymen’s boss.
Medical care eludes the classic economic rules of supply and demand. But apps are a force to reintroduce the concept of competition back in the medical marketplace. Comparing the quality and cost of services are just the start. Consumers voting with their feet and walking out on docs and spreading the word about those who don’t stack up will change the quality and the cost for the better.
A Caveat: A flight manual doesn’t make you a pilot
Know what? There may be some legitimate dangers out there. Eight years of spent in specialized training and years more of patient care means that we correctly consider ourselves better qualified to diagnose and treat disease than you guys. A flight manual doesn’t make you a pilot. Google searches are woefully unfiltered and mobile apps are best used as reference. Reference eliminates deference from the patient doctor transaction.
These and other tools make you a partner in your care. You are partners …not solo, amateur, fly by the seat of your pants, hobby practitioners. You can manage your own health, and part of that is picking the right doc to watch your back. The lack of regulation of these consumer apps is cause for concern “few tools … met our criteria for effectiveness, usefulness, sustainability, and usability.” This, from The British Medical Journal.
10 smart choices
They are smart because they have been chosen by pros. There are too many for me to count, and I don’t have the chops. But MobiHealthNews.com and its Editor, Brian Dolan are experts.
iTriage (free). Helps you evaluate any troubling symptoms and then suggests the best, nearest health-care facilities.
GoodRx (free). Can compare prescription drug prices at virtually every pharmacy in the United States.
ZocDoc (free). Makes it easier to book appointments, even at the last minute. I have this downloaded and have spoken with the company. This is one great outfit.
RunKeeper (free). Tracks your pace, distance, time and heart rate during.
LoseIt! (free). Helps motivate dieters by allowing them to set and log their daily caloric intake by doing such things as scanning the bar codes of foods they eat.
Withings WiFi Scale. ($159 for the scale; the app is free). Monitors your weight, BMI, body fat percentage.
iBGStar Diabetes Manager. ($75 for the meter; the app is free). Track your blood glucose levels and insulin usage and share information and trends with your healthcare team.
iHealth Blood Pressure Dock. ($99.95 for the cuff; the app is free). An iPhone-enabled blood pressure cuff measures your systolic and diastolic pressure, heart rate generating interactive graphs.
Beam Brush (will cost $50). A Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush and app tracks how often , and how long you brush your teeth, serves as a timer so you can do 30 seconds in each quadrant of your mouth.
Zeo Mobile (headband is $149; the app is free). A sensor-embedded headband monitors your sleep patterns, including time in REM and deep sleep, and the app offers advice on how to become a better snoozer.
How can you judge an app? Here, are a few suggestions from the venerable British Medical Journal.
Questions to ask before downloading an app
• Is it produced by a medical publisher? For example, apps adopted by a medical journal or publisher.
• Is it regularly updated?
• Is it properly referenced?
• Are the authors listed?
• Is it possible to give feedback?
• Is the content peer reviewed?
• Has it been recommended by your tutor, university, or healthcare institution?
• Is the app’s primary purpose to inform the health professional (and not patients)?
• Does the app require you to input patient specific data, and could this compromise patients’ privacy?
• Do you know where the app is from? Is it produced by a drug company or a non-commercial organization?