Health app

Will smart phones be the next leap forward in health care?

Bill Dunk investigates the “health” icon, the latest brainchild from Apple.

With the release of the iPhone 6 in September and Apple upgrading their operating system to iOS 8 iPhone users around the world will have probably seen the ‘health’ icon on the home screen of their phones. With the toolkit now being offered to developers, will our smart phones be the next great leap forward in health care?

Since the advent of the smart phone there have been a plethora of apps available to help the user monitor their health and fitness. In the iTunes store there are separate categories for ‘Health and Fitness’ and ‘Medical’ apps. Apps like RunKeeper, Protracker and WebMD allow us to plan and track our workouts and nutrition and to self diagnose ailments, and with the advent of Bluetooth wearable gadgets like Jawbone, Fitbit, Fuelband and Jabra Sport Pulse wireless headphones (that can monitor your heart rate and report back to an app) there is a growing toolkit of technology that will allow us all to be more health aware.

Even though these categories currently hold hundreds of apps, these are just the tip of a health monitoring iceberg for which development is only just beginning.

In the general population ‘Health and fitness app usage has grown at nearly twice the rate of app usage overall through the first half of 2014’ according to a recent BI Intelligence article (businessinsider.com.au), and by searching the term ‘healthcare professional’ in Apple’s app store it seems every topic imaginable is covered in the results for iPad and iPhone users.

For the healthcare consumer though, the release of the iOS 8 gives app developers a whole new toolkit to integrate all sorts of hardware and software to a single receptacle for the information to be stored and monitored by health care professionals. And you can bet that the Google’s Android platform developers won’t be far behind in developing an equivalent.

If you believe Apple’s rhetoric, ‘it just might be the beginning of a health revolution.’

While health and fitness apps with their associated hardware are great at collecting heart rate, calories burned, blood sugar, cholesterol etc. now the Health app provides a dashboard to put that data in one place, allowing the user to have a clear and current overview of their health statistics and to be able to share these with their health care professional. The app can also create an emergency card with important health information such as blood type and any allergies and makes it available right from the phone’s lock screen.

The Health app can also interact with other third-party apps allowing them to access the health data that the user chooses to share. For example, data from your blood pressure app can be shared with your doctor. Or the user can allow a nutrition app to tell a fitness app how many calories they consume each day. When health and fitness apps work together, they can become more powerful.

It seems we are at the dawn of a new era in diagnostic tools to assist in the management of patients, even if initially it is only for the young or early adopters. AMP