Consumer health apps linking medical devices to smartphones are rapidly rising in popularity, with forthcoming offerings from Apple and Google likely to draw even more attention to the mHealth app field. While these apps allow users easy access to their body’s health information, like heart rate, calories burned, and distance walked, they don’t necessarily help users improve their habits and their health.
Still, many clinicians are optimistic about the future of mobile medical apps. An article in Modern Health saw 2013 as “the beginning of convergence between devices and apps used by clinicians and those used by consumers.”
When mobile apps have been used in a clinical setting monitored by physicians, they have helped lead to improved health. A recent cardiac rehabilitation program at the May clinic incorporated a smartphone app into the program for some patients, who used the app to record daily measurements including blood sugar levels, activity levels, and dietary habits over a three-month period. These patients were less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 90 days of discharge, compared with patients that followed a traditional regime.
“Physicians are embracing the trend,” said R. Jay Widmer, an M.D./Ph.D. who oversaw the program at the Mayo Clinic, “but there still isn’t enough data on digital health. This program was very specific to the Mayo Clinic and to what we do. I knew it would be successful because of that. But I don’t have the same level of trust for mainstream apps.”
At UC San Francisco’s Center for Digital Health Innovation, similar mHealth developments are emerging, including CareWeb, a “Care-team collaborative platform that uses social and mobile communications technology built on Salesforce.com;” Tidepool, which is building the infrastructure for a new generation of smart diabetes apps; Health eHeart, “a clinical trials platform using social media, mobile technology, and novel real-time sensors to revolutionize heart disease;” and Trinity, which provides “precision team care by integrating patient data with multidisciplinary input and evidence.”
Aenor Sawyer, M.D., Associate Director of Strategic Relations is optimistic about the outcomes created by these innovations, especially Health eHeart. “With Health eHeart, we’ve been able to leverage social media, data aggregating platforms, and remote activity and physiologic sensing, to extend the reach of clinical research. Participants can go online, create a profile, provide their history, and update their outcomes. They can also send genomic information back to us through a ‘spit kit.’ It has rapidly increased patient recruitment by magnitudes over traditional methods, at a fraction of the cost.”