The Untapped Potential of Healthcare Apps

Do you own an iPhone? If so, you keep company with 33% of people worldwide, according to an mHealth survey. The prevalence of smartphone technology means that consumers of all kinds are becoming accustomed to getting the information they need, when they need it.

Healthcare consumers are no exception, with 52% of smartphone users claiming to gather information about their health on their phones. This ranges from facts on diet, fitness and nutrition to information about specific health problems and procedures.

With 91% of adults admitting to keeping their smartphone within arm’s reach 24/7, it’s no wonder that healthcare organisations are tapping into these powerful personal devices’ potential for collecting, analysing and sharing medical data. In fact, 61% of people surveyed have downloaded a healthcare app.

While there is obviously a significant demand for medical and wellness apps, healthcare providers have only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact they could have on the relationship between patients, physicians and researchers.

By giving patients more control over their medical decisions, and physicians more access to patient data, the world of mobile technology is changing the way we look at diagnosis and disease management. Here are just a few ways in which mobile apps are set to transform healthcare.

Diagnostic tools

25% of people in the UK say that they wait until something is ‘seriously wrong’ before visiting a doctor.

From the inconvenience of taking time off work for an appointment to the time spent in waiting rooms to the embarrassment many patients experience when discussing their health, patients are more likely to wait out minor symptoms than seek a diagnosis.

However, what if there was a way to check symptoms on the go, checking them off against vast quantities of approved medical data and instantly finding the best course of action?

Sophisticated AI diagnostic tools are allowing patients to do just that via their smartphones. Applications such as the 111 smartphone service announced by the NHS last year and the Isabel symptom checker allow users to anonymously discuss their medical concerns with a robot, which then uses up-to-date medical data to make an educated guess and suggest the next steps that the patient should take.

While it’s unlikely that these tools will ever entirely replace GPs in diagnosing illnesses, they can severely cut down physicians’ workloads, filtering out issues that can be cared for at home and ensuring that doctors’ time is well spent on more serious cases.

Furthermore, the fact that these services are anonymous, accurate, and available on the go will make patients more likely to query symptoms early on, helping them to combat illnesses before they become debilitating and feel more in control of their own healthcare choices.

Health monitors

Paired with wearable technology such as smart watches, or specific smart health monitoring devices, mobile applications can give both patients and physicians instant and accurate insights into ongoing conditions.

This will help patients to be more aware of and responsible for their own health, with apps providing real-time readouts of any changes in conditions. The Apple Watch alone monitors activity levels, calorie expenditure and heart rate, and while these metrics are primarily used by consumers to track fitness goals, the NHS has also embraced wearable technology’s potential to keep tabs on more serious problems.

With a library of apps including motivational, therapeutic and fitness-tracking services, the NHS hopes to soon incorporate applications capable of collecting patient data without the need for physician appointments. This not only cuts cost and saves time, but also allows patients to get on with their day-to-day lives with less disruption.

Through unobtrusive sensors worn around the wrist or ankle 24/7, patients can transmit important data to their doctors without even having to think about it, meaning that any concerning symptoms detected will automatically alert experts who can quickly analyse the data and respond accordingly.

Perhaps just as importantly, health monitoring apps allow patients to understand their own conditions better, offering easy-to-understand graphs and metrics of changes in condition over time. This could motivate patients to make positive lifestyle changes, as they’re able to see evidence of the positive effect this has on their overall health.

Portable GPs

Due to the on-the-go nature of mobile technology, patients and physicians alike are discovering potentially life-saving uses for apps in emergency situations.

While doctors may not always have the tools and files they need to diagnose and appropriately treat a patient in a pinch, chances are they will always have their smartphones. In fact, 80% of physicians use medical apps as part of their everyday work.

Considering that 150 to 200 people every day have a medical emergency on a flight, it’s not uncommon for cabin crew to ask whether a doctor’s on board. However, with limited resources it can be hard for doctors to step up to the plate in areas beyond their specialism without incurring further risk to the patient.

Apps like AirRx are set to change that, offering calm and comprehensive instructions to doctors caught in such situations, and giving advice on emergency treatment of 23 common conditions.

Designed specifically to work on phones set to ‘airplane mode’, the app covers information about what sorts of medical equipment is available on different flights, depending on the country of origin, as well as helping doctors discern between simple reactions to cabin pressure changes and more concerning underlying symptoms.

While members of the public may not be able to follow the app’s instructions as safely as a trained doctor or nurse, the app’s growing popularity sets a precedent for mobile advice that could significantly raise public awareness and ability regarding life-saving first aid skills.

Patient services

While all of the above applications have distinct and significant benefits for clinical research, the logistical side of clinical trials has also been transformed by mobile technology, allowing the trial process to become more streamlined and patient centric.

Applications such as our patientprimary and expensefirst services eliminate problems such as arranging transport to the study site and claiming trial expenses. While these issues may seem inconsequential to the study as a whole, to an individual patient they may be the difference between committing to a study or dropping out.

patientprimary not only allows patients to arrange hospital appointments, chauffeured transport and home visits according to their own schedules, but also gives them a chance to submit feedback after each interaction, allowing their voices to be heard throughout the trial process.

expensefirst eliminates concerns about patient costs associated with trial participation, such as public transport fares, parking fees and meals. These can quickly add up, making trial participation at best unappealing for patients, and at worst impossible. By offering a streamlined and instant method for claiming reimbursement, the app allows patients peace of mind while demonstrating transparency at every stage.

By offering a sense of control over the daunting trial experience, apps like these can keep patients feeling like valued research partners, decreasing dropout rates and improving the working relationships between patients and physicians.

Find out how mobile apps can transform your clinical trial with our in-house technologies experts, or discover the trends that are transforming healthcare in 2017.