If you look up “health apps” in an app store, you’re bound to get over a hundred hits, ranging from titles like “Mindspace”, to “Health Service Locator”. With technology dominating our current life style, it is no surprise that healthcare apps are fast emerging and can now do more than just manage patient records; they happen to connect, inform, and educate people as well.
Since the late 1900’s, the technology industry has been booming. Today, there are over 2.3 billion smartphone users, with a booming app industry that constantly engineers new ways to make lives easier, especially in the realm of healthcare. In fact, it has been reported that about 66 percent of Americans use a mobile platform to manage their health issues. Major companies, such as Apple are continuously breaking into the healthcare app industry, and almost 100 000 health-related apps have been added to the market since 2015. This indicates a clear demand for these apps, which are revolutionizing a healthcare system that hasn’t changed much in over 30 years.
In 1977, possibly the first ever medical-based app was rejected by Apple, who, by 2014, had released their own health-related app, called Health. This app helps monitor and motivate users to make healthier choices. Other health apps are also a reliable source of up-to-date health news and expertise, providing users with the ability to best manage their own health. Much like Health from Apple, numerous apps are developed to specifically keep track of fitness, wellness, and nutritional progress. These also include sport and fitness activity tracking, sleep cycle analysis, biorhythm tracking, stress reduction activities, and reminders- all of which are functions that are offered in the highly-rated Sports Tracker and Fooducate Weight Loss Coach apps. All of these apps aim to empower users to adopt a healthier lifestyle by encouraging them to become more knowledgeable, accountable, and self-reliant in matters pertaining to their personal health.
Alongside health promotion apps, DoctorOnDemand, HealthTap, Insight Optics, and Digital Pharmacist are a few other examples of apps that contributing to this flourishing industry. These apps allow the users to receive primary care right from the comfort of their own home. DoctorOnDemand and HealthTap allow users to have a virtual consultation with a physician through a live video call. This allows the user to still receive personalized care when needed and have the doctor write necessary prescriptions, breaking down the barrier of accessibility. However, despite their ease of access, such apps often require a fee for consultation, and users are unable to form a strong connection with their doctor, which is often a hallmark of patient care. The Insight Optics app provides a similar service to the aforementioned apps, using the high definition resolution of the phone camera to take a picture of the user’s retina, which is then sent to an ophthalmologist for examination. Likewise, the Digital Pharmacist app allows users to easily access a pharmacist, which makes the prescription filling process all the more convenient.
Health-related apps are changing the way consumers perceive the healthcare industry and their ability to take greater control of their health. With this understanding and autonomy, users have the power to make the right decisions. As well, research has shown that when patients have greater autonomy, their health improves overall. While health promotions apps focus on individual empowerment, many healthcare-related apps can also lend to the creation of an increasingly accessible and efficient healthcare system. Virtual consulting and health examinations through apps can potentially solve the issue of long travel times for rural communities. Since certain countries such as Canada are very large geographically, there are disparities in the quality of care provided within and amongst communities. Thus, through these applications, individuals in urban and rural areas will be able to receive a similar level of primary care with the added benefit of shorter travel times.
While health-related apps have a significant advantage, it can be challenging to integrate them into nation-wide healthcare systems. In Canada, implementing an industry-wide change will require the agreement of the federal and provincial government, as well as healthcare professional associations, such as the Canadian Medical Association. While implementing this change is easier in countries where healthcare is privatized, there is still the concern that the quality of care will be lessened, especially when a healthcare provider does not examine a patient in person.
What does the future of health-related apps look like? As demand for more health-related apps grow, governments will need to make reforms to numerous health policies, and incorporate this new dimension of receiving healthcare services into the public sphere. As well, many healthcare professionals will have to be willing to modify and adapt the ways in which they provide traditional health-related services. One thing that may sway policy makers and healthcare professionals to integrate more apps into their practice is the cost-savings that come with apps. With the growing utilization of smartphones and technology, health apps can potentially save governments and patients a lot of money; an appealing sentiment for an industry that is burdened by paramount costs.