Healthcare Technology Featured Article

May 30, 2013

Health and Wellness Apps Causing Shift in the Medical Field

There are thousands of medical apps for both consumers and physicians to have on their smartphone devices. These apps do not just communicate information – they are also capable of performing therapy and diagnostic tests. Are these newly emerging apps to be trusted?

More often than not, run alongside these apps are devices – dongles, if you will – that can be attached to help better aide the patient. For example, there is an iPhone device that derives an EKG from the pulse in your fingertips, as well as a wrist device the size of an iPhone that delivers all of the telemetry needed from a patient in an ICU.

When linked to diagnostic tools, mobile apps and devices can check blood sugar levels for those with diabetes, monitor blood pressure and, yes, even perform urine analysis. Some doctors have stated that they are now prescribing more apps than they are drugs. 

That last sentence may be a cause of concern for some. After all, when it comes to healthcare, do people really want an obstacle – especially an emerging technology - between them and their physician?

Healthcare apps are showing to be of tremendous benefit. An app allows the doctor a chance to work more closely with the patient during an exam, with no need to send the patient elsewhere for bloodwork or an EKG. The app simply becomes a part of the conversation with the doctor.

Wellness apps work in the sense of making the patient more aware of his or her potential health issues, such as obesity and stress levels. By monitoring these activities, patients have a better chance of spending less time in a hospital.

Those worried about the integrity of these apps can rest a bit easier knowing that their doctor will test each app beforehand, and should the app be defective or not live up to its claim, it can be tossed aside much like what you and I do with apps we download every day.

One area that could see significant benefits from this technology is developing towns, cities and countries, where mobile phones are readily available even though online technology is not.

In richer areas, money is pouring in to mobile health. According to global consultants PwC, mobile health services could save upwards of $400 billion a year by 2017 as patients reduce the amount of hospital visits.

In an old-fashioned, fee-for-service system, every unnecessary test, scan and admission adds to the bottom line. If small devices and apps used in the examining room by the doctor directly with the patient can substitute for the lab work now done by a local hospital, the healthcare industry would become more lean and efficient, cutting its workforce without cutting its services.

The speed with which the change takes hold, from a more traditional healthcare system to one that relies heavily on mobile apps, will depend on whether or not the doctor's workflow is improved upon.

There is an argument that the whole market is growing so quickly that it runs the risk of being seriously unregulated and could persuade people to do things that put their health at risk.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been debating how to oversee these types of apps, but have stated they do not want to risk stifling growth. In March, the FDA said any mobile health app regulation will be 'narrow', carried out 'judiciously' and without impeding sales of smartphones.

Shortly thereafter, FDA officials announced plans to put new health app regulations in place by October 2013.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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