Think your phone’s pretty smart? Just wait until it gets a medical degree.
Your smartphone’s not an MD just yet. But you might say it’s now ready to be your home-health nurse. Thanks to a new breed of apps, smartphones are beginning to help real-life doctors, clinicians and other care-givers – even patients themselves – better manage chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and even depression.
For the 133 million Americans with chronic conditions, these apps keep a constant eye, watching for changes that could signal trouble’s brewing. That could help doctors and patients tackle problems in the moment, while they’re small — hopefully reducing the need for urgent care or hospitalization later. So the patients are healthier. And their wallets are too.
And if they can help lessen their need for care at medical facilities, then these apps could turn out to be a critical lifeline for the USA healthcare system, which is on the brink of being overrun by aging Baby Boomers, the first of whom turn 70 next year.
The coming-out party for many of these do-it-yourself healthcare apps will be in Chicago next week, at the annual Health Information and Management Systems Society, or HIMSS, conference. Industry acceptance for healthcare apps is rising, and this new crop could help speed momentum. According to HIMSS’ 2015 Mobile Technology Survey, which will be announced at the show next week, 27.9% of the healthcare professionals surveyed foresee prescribing apps in the future to engage patients. That’s up from 22.6% in last year’s survey.
That’s no surprise. The smartphone will play a major role in what PricewaterhouseCoopers calls the “New Health Economy.” First and foremost, it’s with us most of the time. It has access to a wealth of information — everything from our personal health records and academic journals, which give clues to how we’ve been and what might come, to the sensors inside the phone, which keep an eye on how we’re doing now. That continuous stream of data is key, and part and parcel for why the apps can do such a good job spotting trouble early. It’s sort of like a 24/7 checkup.
Ginger.io, which is a finalist for an Innovation award at HIMSS next week, has apps that provide continuous mental-health checkups. A key piece of the apps, which keep tabs on conditions like anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder, are daily mood surveys. But they’re also watching for changes in activity, which can be a sign that things are taking a turn.
The Ginger.io apps take about a month to get to know you, your habits and your patterns before kicking into gear. The apps are undergoing trials, which are quick and easy to join if you want to try one of them. They support both iPhone and Android.
COPD Navigator is a new iPhone app from LifeMap Solutions that keeps an eye on, naturally, COPD patients. Like Ginger.io, LifeMap is a bicoastal start-up with offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York. On the East Coast, LifeMap’s got strong ties with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Mount Sinai — National Jewish Health Respiratory Institute.
Navigator is one of the first apps compatible with Apple’s new HealthKit, which is designed to help developers build fitness and medical hardware and software for the iPhone. The new app tracks inhalations with a Bluetooth-enabled “smart” inhaler device that’s also HealthKit-compliant.
4D Healthware is a Chicago-based start-up with a broad health and wellness approach. It is more closely tied to Fitbit’s line of activity trackers and connected devices, including the Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale. Its platform works on both iOS and Android devices.
The platform makes use of patients’ health history as well as real-time inputs from connected devices, and then leverages that to make health and lifestyle recommendations. The company is working to add more connected devices to its quiver.
The founders of OSIA Medical designed their analytics engine to be portable across chronic conditions, though the first target was asthma. Not too surprising, given that CEO Josh Dees — who calls himself the Chief Patient — is an asthma sufferer. He’s been using Asthma Ally for three years, and has gotten his own condition under control. You can find Asthma Ally on the Android, iOS and Windows stores.
Rich Hendershot, OSIA’s Chief Medical Officer, can quantify that. During the first two years of use, Dees had attacks 2.5 times a year. This past year, it’s down to .7 times a year.
If these apps can make that kind of difference across a wide swath of the country, well, bring on the Baby Boomers.