4. Mobile health monitoring
Gartner, Inc., an information technology research and advisory company, recently ranked mobile health monitoring—the use of mobile communications to monitor patients remotely—number five in its top 10 consumer mobile applications for 2012. The company's report states that mobile health monitoring has the potential to help governments, care delivery organizations, and healthcare payers reduce costs related to chronic diseases. It also has the potential to improve quality of life in patients.
According to Feldman, Apple has already made it possible to turn an iPhone into a glucometer. Instead of going to their physicians with their diabetes logs, patients may only have to bring a smartphone with them in the future. (You can view a demonstration of this technology at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lwp2vgxF3I.)
"It frees you from the computer," says Feldman. "Right now, people show up with a glucometer and sometimes I can figure it out, sometimes I can't. All of the sudden, I now have a device that I understand and it's standardized."
Snyder says it is in the best interests of pharmaceutical companies to enter the mobile health monitoring space. If their patients become more compliant, then they will use more of their medications.
She predicts that patients may not be the prime audience for mobile health monitoring applications, since most patients with chronic diseases are older and not as likely to use mobile devices. However, she states that these applications would be helpful to an individual who may be caring for an aging parent.
5. Disease mapping
News outlets are typically the timeliest source of information on the spread of diseases. However, one smartphone application has set out to change that. HealthMap integrates disease outbreak data from news sources, personal accounts, and official alerts and displays them on a Web site.
The project, which is based out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab in Cambridge, MA, is funded through a grant by Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google.
HealthMap, which launched as a Web site over two years ago, has released an application called OutbreaksNearMe, which is available on both the iPhone and Android smartphone platforms. The application provides users with location-based information about diseases using the global positioning system (GPS) available in smartphones.
"We can deliver HealthMap alerts directly to your phone that are particularly relevant to your current location," says project co-founder Carl Freifeld, a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab. "I think having the smartphone application makes it easy for physicians to keep up to date on what outbreaks of diseases are happening in their area so they know what to look for when their patients come in."
While federal, state, and local health departments collect data about diseases, they often conduct a lengthy approval process. By the time information reaches physicians, it may be too late for them to react. By comparison, the information on OutbreaksNearMe gathers real-time data.
"Official announcements are obviously still very important, but in order to be official, it has to go through a vetting process," says Freifeld. "That introduces a time lag."
In 2010, look for interactive smartphone applications that allow users to contribute data in addition to accessing it. OutbreaksNearMe has already started incorporating interactivity into its application. Users can contribute knowledge about disease outbreaks in their area using the application. The concept is similar to the iReporter feature that CNN.com uses to gather news tips from the public.
"It's exciting for us, because it's a way to improve our system to get access to even more information. It also allows users to be participants in the HealthMap community rather than be passive recipients of the data we're collecting," says Freifeld.
Another example of this trend comes from UMMC. The hospital garnered much attention when they released Medical Encyclopedia, an application containing approximately 50,000 pages of medical content from A.D.A.M., a creator of health-related information. (For more information on this application, visit www.umm.edu/iphone/.)
"We really didn't know what to expect, but we certainly weren't expecting 1,500 to 2,000 downloads a day, which we've gotten consistently from day one," says UMMC Web site editor Chris Lindsley. "We became one of the most popular medical applications right out of the gate."
The reference application lets users ask experts at the medical center questions about health concerns. While the experts do not diagnose patients online, they do provide them with explanations of diseases and conditions and direct them to sources of additional information.
7. Mobile testing
On-the-go physicians need tools they can take with them as they travel from one patient's room to the next. Expect to find companies releasing more mobile testing applications in 2010. Some applications that have been extremely popular include eye charts, color blindness tests, hearing tests, stress checks, and many others.
Many applications are beginning to leverage the smartphone accelerometer—a device that detects motion. When you turn your phone left or right, the display of a phone with a built-in accelerometer will change from portrait to landscape. For gamers, that means that they can simulate driving a vehicle by simply tilting their phone.
Healthcare is developing slick applications using this feature. The CobbMeter is one such example. It allows physicians to measure spine curvature angles with surprising accuracy. Instead of using a protractor, physicians can align the side of an iPhone to standard tracings that they use and the position sensor in the phone will display the curvature angle. The precision of the device is 1/10th of a degree.
There are also CPR applications that let users practice CPR motions by pushing their smartphone down to deliver compressions. The applications provide users with feedback on the appropriate amount of force they should use during compressions.