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Mobile Health Applications: Their Significance for Medical Education and Healthcare

Mobile Health Applications and Their Significance for Medical Education and Healthcare

As we here at ORGENTEC Diagnostika set about developing a smartphone application for our company in mid-September of this year, we had no idea what an exciting field we were entering.

We were also amazed when we began to intensively explore the iTunes App store and Android Market to see “what the others were up to”. We tried out many things, looked at a large variety of very different apps, and loaded our iPhones up with a broad range of apps.

Screenshots of the ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Guide, the app on autoimmunity, autoimmune disorders, and autoimmune diseases diagnostics. di

The ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Guide: Three screenshots of our company’s mobile medical app on autoimmunity, autoimmune disorders, and autoimmune diseases diagnostics. – © ORGENTEC Diagnostika, Mainz

We also researched a lot of technical details, reading this blog and that. We learned a great deal about the market shares of the individual mobile operating systems (“Who is winning the race for domination on the mobile operating system market in which corner of the world? Apple’s iOS or the Android OS? Blackberry’s RIM or Windows Phone 7?”). We thus also had to involve ourselves to some extent in some “religious wars” (“iPhone or Android device?” – … there’s no question, is there?).

We soon resolved the initial technical questions and quickly found an experienced app developer and a professional graphics agency (we went back to the tried and true – a big thank you for a long and successful collaboration!).

The Birth of ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Guide

We immediately developed a sound concept and – nearly simultaneously – compiled the content of our first ORGENTEC app. Time was short because we planned to present the “ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Guide” to our customers and partners around the world at Medica 2011.

Everything went off without a hitch: the Autoimmunity Guide has been available at the Apple App Store and Android Marke since November 11, 2011! (For the news release of 28/11/2011: A New App: ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Guide – iOS and Android app for smartphones and tablet computers.)

As we spent weeks deeply immersed in the world of healthcare apps, we were absolutely fascinated. The world of apps that have something to do with health, healthcare, medicine, or public health is highly complex.

These apps cover a wide range. It reaches from an app about homeopathy to the healing powers of gemstones, to mobile diet planners and health tips. Vaccination calendars, fitness programs, nutrition tips, or online pharmacies: The number of healthcare and medical mobile apps has become nearly incomprehensible. However, the soundness and quality of these apps sometimes falls short. For a public health-related app, I find this to be not only unfortunate, but also bordering on negligent.

The QR code for the ORGENTEC Autoimmunitiy Guide

For quick download: The QR code for the ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Guide.

However, there are also some pearls among the ordinary and beacons in the darkness: some of the smartphone and tablet apps are really well made. Some of these health and life science applications are highly innovative and have completely new approaches. They not only present a clever idea skilfully and professionally; these apps meet high standards and the strict scientific benchmarks that should be applied to all aspects of modern medicine.

Public health-related apps for efficient doctor-patient interactions

These days, as I have found, some medical apps even allow public health care professionals to tap a broad, reliable source that lets them research the information and up-to-date data they need for their daily work – nearly anywhere and any time.

I am also certain that in the future, mobile healthcare apps will also have a large influence on direct doctor-patient interactions. In apps for mobile devices, physicians now have a completely new, fascinating, and interactive medium for successfully making their patients more aware of health issues. They also have new possibilities for promoting patient compliance and monitoring their adherence to a treatment plan.

Even well-respected public health organisations like the CDC or the UN are increasingly launching their own mobile applications.

There are now apps for a number of different subjects in the area of public health and for a large number of target groups. Well-respected public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, are increasingly launching their own apps. Even authorities like the United Nations have recognised the value and significance of mobile applications for reaching their goals.

So what about the small apps for the iPhone, Blackberry, and its ilk? – Those apps that can be bought for relatively little money and loaded onto a smartphone or tablet (these apps are often even free) allow the user to access very specific information, and directly deliver personalised data tailored to the user’s individual needs without requiring extensive searching on the Internet.

Mobile apps for tailor-made health communication

Businesses or organizations can use these apps – and this is what’s new – to reach people wherever they may be, because smartphone users carry their mobile devices around all of the time. With a well-made app, users can be reached around the clock and seven days a week, whether at work, on the road, or at home on the couch.

girl on cell phone

Generally, teens and young people have a higher affinity for technology than adults. For the so called “digital natives” mobile technology is a part of their lives and their main source of information. – © APatterson

According to a study by the Pew Internet Project, 35% of adults in the United States now own a smartphone. And, of course, this number is rising. In addition one quarter of the smartphone owners (25%) admitted in the study that they primarily use their mobile device to go online. There is thus enormous potential for communication between businesses and their dialog partners.

The apps may thus be used as a direct window into the organizations, firms, and companies – or a window looking out from the businesses. They are, after all, designed for communication between businesses and markets, not as unidirectional monologues.

The apps can also provide targeted product information to the consumer. In a well-made app, the client can quickly find the information needed – without a lot of effort and with a minimum of clicks. This is what makes apps and mobile devices so interesting for marketing.

Public health organizations, businesses in the area of health care, and even health insurance companies learned a while ago just what this is all about. There are so many good reasons to program an app and market it!

Mobile apps are, after all, designed for communication between businesses and markets, not as unidirectional monologues.

In order to convey their educational messages, some organizations and their app developers have chosen to use games. The California Poison Control System (CPCS), which runs the California Poison Control Call Center launched an app called “Choose Your Poison” early this last summer.

Mobile games convey the educational message

The Choose Your Poison app is a game for smartphones and tablet computers, which challenges the player to choose between two images. One image shows a medication, the other its “double”, a harmless candy that looks similar enough to the pill to be confusing.  The game is fun, interactive, and underscores an important poisoning prevention message: that medications can easily be mistaken for candy.

picture shows an iPhone - While smartphones are a popular platform for games, the mobile devices increasingly become mobile devices to monitor health.

Smartphones like the iPhone increasingly become mobile devices for medical education and for monitoring patients’ health. – © Yutaka Tsutano

The Choose Your Poison game is also available online at www.pillsvscandy.com. From the technical point of view, the app is based on this “classic” online game from the California Poison Control System, which has been very popular with parents and teachers. They played it with children to alert them to the danger of the colourful pills.

Why did they adapt such a successful online game for mobile smartphones as well? – According to Iana Simeonov, Director of Consumer Communication at the California Poison Control System, who spearheads technology and mobile health projects for the CPCS, the answer is quite simple: “By 2012, more smartphones will be shipped than desktop computers, and by 2013, people using their mobile device to search the Internet will overtake desktop Internet users for the first time. We wanted to be on the forefront of mobile health in the area of poison control and since younger people 18 to 29 tend to search for health information on their phones – a group likely to be of child bearing age – we felt it was important to make poison prevention information available this way.” For people of this generation, who are “digital natives”, mobile technology is a part of their lives and their main source of information. They have never known anything else.

Mobile health apps can used to reach people wherever they may be - smartphone users carry their mobile devices around all of the time! - © canberkol

Businesses or organizations can use these apps to reach people wherever they may be, because smartphone users carry their mobile devices around all of the time. – © canberkol

Another example of a well-made smartphone and tablet application is the Outbreaks Near Me app, which was introduced two years ago by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as part of the Informatics Program of the Children’s Hospital of Boston, and has been continually updated since. (For the press release of 12/01/2009: ‘Outbreaks Near Me’ app now available for Android mobile phones.)

An app from the HealthMap project makes it possible to keep track of infectious diseases, such as H1N1 influenza – also known as swine flu – worldwide. The user can also report an outbreak of infectious disease to the HealthMap project and its website to directly contribute to the project.

The UN AIDSinfo app: mobile medical app for valid data on AIDS

One very specific app has been extensively used by the scientists and aides of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS to stay up to date: the United Nations AIDSinfo app.

According to the UN officials on the UN AIDS website, the goal of the UN AIDSinfo app is to better understand why and how HIV infections spread, and where specific treatments, care, and support programs are needed. The mobile healthcare app, available for the iPad, delivers detailed, valid data with a few touches to the screen – and this with the latest numbers for every individual country.

While some health apps present data to make it available to healthcare professionals, other apps are used to gather and compile medical data. It is not yet clear what importance mobile apps will have in epidemiological studies or in carrying out clinical studies; a number of studies – including scientific ones – are underway. The initial results are highly promising.

For the “digital natives”, mobile technology is a part of their lives and their main source of information. They have never known anything else.

Scientists from the University Health Network in Toronto are thus currently experimenting with a diabetes monitoring app for the iPhone that determines the blood sugar levels of juvenile diabetics and sends the relevant data directly to the scientists. The teen patients can thus be remotely monitored by their doctors. Data transmission and data handling are also made significantly simpler by this type of glucometer app. Current and established technologies are not able to adequately and meaningfully process the immense quantities of data produced, according to the participating scientists.

Diabetes management via iPhone app is well received by teenage diabetics

This experiment in monitoring diabetes with a glucose meter app is targeted at youth for two very simple reasons: Firstly, the transition from childhood to adulthood presents a particular challenge for diabetics. According to the researchers, it is very difficult to maintain good glycaemic control during this phase. Secondly, monitoring by iPhone is generally well received by teens, as they generally have a higher affinity for technology than adults. This greatly increases compliance with therapy, say the scientists (for the press release, published on 10/02/2011 on Bloomberg.com: bant iPhone app to help teens manage Type 1 Diabetes).

For every technical advance, and for all of the possibilities that mobile medical apps offer for the health of individuals and public health, health experts advise great diligence in the conception, design, and development of healthcare apps. It seems that too many apps are poorly made and riddled with incorrect information.

In a study published last May in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, scientists Lorien C. Abroms and her colleagues investigated 47 iPhone applications for smoking cessation. The scientists found that most of the apps they looked at did not correspond to the current U.S. Public Health Service’s 2008 Clinical Practice Guidelines for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence. “iPhone apps for smoking cessation rarely adhere to established guidelines for smoking cessation. It is recommended that current apps be revised and future apps be developed around evidence-based practices for smoking cessation,” according to the paper’s abstract.

Apps should be driven by science

“Quality apps are hard to find because many companies are in such a hurry to sell their apps,” says Alexander V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., Director of MD Anderson’s e-Health Technology Program and Professor in the Department of Behavioral Science. “And they don’t take the time to conduct a study to see if users adopt real, lasting change.” Alexander V. Prokhorov stipulates that developers must base their healthcare apps primarily on scientific facts.

Think of apps as tools that complement what you are doing offline. A good public-health-related app is always driven by and infused with science.

The app must naturally be useful as well, so that it appeals to consumers and clients: “Think of health apps as tools that complement what you’re doing offline,” says Jermaine McMillan, Project Director of MD Anderson’s e-Health Technology Program. A good public-health-related app, according to McMillan, is always driven by and infused with science. If it is also fun, so much the better!

Below, I have listed several apps in the healthcare field. I have described some of these apps in the blog post above. Although I have briefly checked to see which operating systems and devices these apps are available on, I recommend further research if you are interested, as my information may not be complete.

One more note: I have naturally briefly looked at all of these apps, tried some of them out, and tested others extensively. I have of course not been able to confirm the content and accuracy of the information delivered by these various apps in every case.

The hyperlinks are links to the download possibilities for the apps; they are not recommendations! I take no responsibility for the quality and correctness of these apps; this list of healthcare apps is meant to be a little glimpse into the world of healthcare apps. I will gladly accept any suggestions and recommendations!

Here are also some Internet links I used to write this blog post (all accessed 07/12/2011):

AIDSinfo by National Library of Medicine. – AIDSinfo app for the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

BMI Calculator by National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. – iPhone app for quick assessment of body mass index

The BMI calculator app website: many mobile healtcare applications can be downloaded free of charge, for example this iPhone app by the US government.

The BMI calculator app website: many mobile healtcare applications can be downloaded free of charge, for example this iPhone app by the US government. – © NHLBI

Bant by University Health Network and The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. –  a diabetes management app for the iPhone and iPod touch

Calorie Tracker by Livestrong.com. – Calorie Tracker for iPhone app, iPad app, Calorie Tracker Windows Mobile App, and Calorie Tracker Blackberry App

CDC Vaccine Schedule by Austin Physician Productivity. Provides the full updated 2011 CDC Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule. – CDC Vaccine Schedule for the iPhone, iPod touch, and the iPad

Choose Your Poison by University of California. Pills vs candy: a game which asks players to tell the difference between pills and look-alike candy. – Choose Your Poison for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Choose Your Poison for Android mobile devices

Clinical Trials Mobile by Pharmaceutical Product Development. – Clinical Trials Mobile iPhone app, and iPad app

Consumer Product Safety Commission by Consumer Product Safety Commission. Provides product warnings as well as podcasts about products. – Consumer Product Safety Commission for the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

Control of Communicable Diseases Manual by Unbound Medicine. Provides information for identifying, managing and preventing infectious diseases. – Control of Communicable Diseases Manual for iPod touch, iPhone, iPad

CSPI Chemical Cuisine by Center for Science in the Public Interest. Lists information about commonly used food additives. – CSPI Chemical Cuisine for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPadCSPI Chemical Cuisine for  Android

Eponyms byPascal Pfiffner. Short description of medical eponyms. – Eponyms (for students) iPod touch, iPhone App, and  iPad, and Eponyms for Android mobile devices

iRadiology by Lieberman’s iRadiology. A Learning tool for medical students and residents. – iRadiology for iPod touch, iPhone app and iPad app

MedCalc by Mathias Tschopp and Pascal Pfiffner. A medical calculator that contains medical formulas and scores. – MedCalc for the iPad, iPhone, iPad

Screenshot of the Medscape app

Medscape Mobile from WebMD is a very comprehensive app for healthcare professionals. – © rosemary

Medscape by WebMD Health. Free medical app available for healthcare professionals. – Medscape app for the iPhone, the iPod touch, and the iPad, Medscape for Android mobile devices, and Blackberry App World.

My QuitLine by National Cancer Institute. Quit smoking app.My QuitLine for the iPhone

ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Guide by ORGENTEC Diagnostika GmbH. Our mobile app on autoimmunity, autoimmune disesease and autoimmune diagnostics. ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Guide for the iPhone, the iPod touch, and the iPad and the ORGENTEC Autoimmunity Guide for Android devices.

Outbreaks Near Me by HealthMap. Real-time disease outbreak information. – HealthMap: Outbreaks Near Me iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Swine Flu: Outbreaks Near Me Android

Public Health News by Harvard University.Harward School of Public Health News for the iPod touch, iPhone, iPad

UN Aidsinfo by The United Nations. – UN AIDSinfo for the iPad

UV Index by Environmental Protection Agency. Sun-safety app.UV Index for Android mobile devices, UV Index for Blackberry, UV Index Mobile Web

Walking Paths by American Heart Association. Create, find and track walking paths anytime. – Walking Paths app for the iPhone, and Walking Paths app for Android devices

 Author of this article:  Tobias Stolzenberg
 
Pictures:
Girl on cell phone by APatterson via stock.xchng
Cell phone conversation 2 by canberkol via stock.xchng
Screenshot BMI Calculator by USA.gov/NHLBI
iPhone by Yutaka Tsutano via flickrCC by 2.0
Screenshot Medscape app by rosemary via flickrCC by 2.0
 

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