App health warning

by May 14, 2012 No Comments

Personal healthcare via smartphones is growing rapidly but doctors are divided over its merits


Over the next five years, the world wireless health market is forecast to grow by 19.43 per cent yearover- year to reach £23.43bn in value by 2016. The handheld devices and apps segment, comprising mobile devices and mobile apps, is one of the main contributors to the wireless health market growth globally.

And a snapshot of recently launched apps in the UK provides a measure of their growing ubiquity.

Stroke patients could be helped to hospital quicker with a new smartphone app. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are set to release an application called Fast which identifies key symptoms of a stroke. It is hoped the app will help diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Funding for the app has been provided by Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS) whose research shows that stroke is the third-biggest killer in Scotland, behind heart disease and cancer. Fast asks users if the person can smile, can lift both arms and if their speech is slurred. If all these symptoms are present, the user is told to call 999.

The app, available on iPhone and Android handsets, points to different symptoms and indicators, while providing instant access to nursing staff and hospitals on demand. It is part of the Fast campaign by NHS Scotland and CHSS, aimed at treating and preventing strokes.

An app showing how alcohol can quicken the ageing process has been launched to help encourage women to stay within the recommended alcohol limits. The Scottish Government’s Alcohol Behaviour Change campaign, aimed at women, highlights the health benefits of breaking drinking habits and advocates small changes such as having alcohol-free days and alternating alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or water.

The campaign includes a national roadshow and uses the slogan Drop A Glass Size to promote the health benefits of staying within recommended drinking guidelines. It includes the Drinking Time Machine app for smartphones, which shows the possible physical results of regularly drinking too much. Available from the Scottish Government and free of charge for one month, it ages the user’s own image as a way of showing the potential effect of alcohol.

A new device will enable diabetics to manage their condition with a smartphone. The £48 hi-tech glucose monitor, being rolled out at Boots stores, attaches to the iPhone and iPod touch. It allows sufferers to check their blood sugar levels at any time using their phone or MP3 player. The device, iBGStar, comes with a free Diabetes Manager App that makes it possible to store, track and analyse medical data.

Accurate monitoring of blood glucose is essential to the management of diabetes, which affects 2.9 million people in the UK. It is especially important for people with type-1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease that can lead to dangerous rises in blood sugar level. High blood sugar can lead to serious complications including damage to the heart, kidneys, nerves and eyes.

Traditional blood glucose monitors (BGMs) are palm-sized devices that test tiny drops of blood obtained by pricking the skin. iBGStar works the same way but is just one inch long and plugs straight into an iPhone or iPod touch. Software carries out the analysis and flashes the results onto the screen. It also allows users to follow changing trends and variations, and factors in information such as carbohydrate intake, insulin injections and exercise.

GlaxoSmithKline has launched MyAsthma, the UK’s first, free, personalised health app designed to help people over the age of 12 take greater control of their asthma. The app features the company’s Asthma Control Test (ACT), a simple 30-second test developed by leading asthma experts, which gives asthma patients a useful measure of their asthma control in an easy-to-understand score.

Although many patients are receiving treatment for their asthma, a recent survey in the UK shows that almost 50 per cent do not have their asthma under control. MyAsthma applies new technology to traditional asthma management to provide a daily personalised plan helping patients to manage their asthma more effectively.

It displays localised information on asthma triggers such as pollen count, pollution and weather. It helps patients track their symptoms and ACT score evolution over time and contains a library with useful information about asthma. An algorithm generates tailored messages, based on a person’s ACT score and individual profiles, to help people address the personal barriers they face and to help them improve their management of the condition.

“MyAsthma is exciting for people with asthma as it uses new technology to help them better understand and control this chronic disease,” said Dr Mike Thomas, Asthma UK Senior Research Fellow with the University of Aberdeen and Chief Medical Adviser, Asthma UK. “MyAsthma can also be used by carers of people with asthma, especially parents and is a great way to teach older children the importance of taking control of their asthma. This creates a habit that they can carry into adulthood, a significant and positive step for the future of asthma care in the UK.” And people could soon be directed to free or cheap apps by their GPs to allow them to monitor and manage their health more effectively. The latest innovations in smartphone technology will help patients and the public to find and use NHS services, manage conditions and make better lifestyle choices in a way that is very convenient for them. It follows a call to find the best new ideas and existing smartphone apps that help people and doctors better manage care which received nearly 500 entries and over 12,600 votes and comments.

At an event earlier this year showcasing the best ideas for new and existing health apps, Andrew Lansley, the English Health Secretary, said: “So many people use apps every day to keep up with their friends, with the news, find out when the next bus will turn up or which train to catch. I want to make using apps to track blood pressure, to find the nearest source of support when you need it and to get practical help in staying healthy the norm.” Martha Lane-Fox, UK Digital Champion and dot.

com entrepreneur, said: “We live in a world where digital technology is an essential part of people’s lives – whether it’s at work or simply getting around town. I want to encourage more people to develop their digital skills, and that’s why it’s been great to be a part of this initiative. Using apps that locate local health services or apps that help you to get fit can dramatically improve your daily life.” But a poll conducted by Doctors.net.uk has found doctors are divided over the benefits of mobile phone apps to help patients better manage their health. The poll of 550 GPs and secondary care doctors across the UK found that 54 per cent agreed that mobile phone apps could be beneficial in helping patients to monitor their health, while 46 per cent disagreed.

Doctors who had graduated since 2000 were more likely to approve of patients using this technology than those who graduated earlier. For example, 65 per cent of the 182 participants who had graduated since 2000 were in favour compared with 49 per cent of a similar number of doctors who graduated between 1986 and 1999, and 48 per cent from 1985 to 1960.

One doctor who was opposed to the idea claimed that smartphone users were ‘on the whole, young and fit’. Another commented that smartphones could not be used in isolation and were too expensive to replace the value of a leaflet giving basic advice such as ‘eat less’ or ‘stop smoking’.

However, one doctor claimed that a pregnancy app was achieving positive results among some of their antenatal patients and that many patients produced smartphones during consultations to highlight information on their ailment. Another doctor said they had successfully used smoking cessation apps themselves and would recommend them to others.

Dr Tim Ringrose, CEO of Doctors.net.uk, said: “Our poll highlights a significant difference of opinion among doctors about the value of mobile phone apps to help patients monitor and improve their health. While some doctors have already experienced at first hand the value that apps can bring to their patients as well as themselves, others clearly need to be convinced that they will add value. It will therefore be interesting to see how this UK Government initiative unfolds and whether smartphones will indeed play a critical role in saving millions of pounds through unnecessary visits to the surgery or hospital.”

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