Maintaining health is just a thumb click away

By | Health & Wellness
Mobile health apps could be an important tool for GPs and patients over the next few years. Credit @NicolaSince1972

There is a growing amount of health and fitness apps available on the smart phone market, the question is, are these apps valid and reliable? Charles Lowe, president of the telemedicine and e-health section of the Royal Society of Medicine believes the majority of health and fitness apps are.

Lowe said: “My vision is that in two or three years’ time, a GP will diagnose a condition in a patient and then say, ‘here is an app which can help you,’ or perhaps combine drugs and an app in his treatment. A well put together app could do an increasing number of things, which a GP does at the moment.”

There are thousands of health apps available to download, offering everything from tracking symptoms to determining your mood. With the premise of apps meaning almost anyone can create them, it is best to use trusted sources when searching for the latest app.

The NHS Health Apps Library was launched just over a year ago and has more than 200 apps listed with the authority of doctors, nurses and medical experts. Simply search NHS in the app store to find everything from BMI calculators to guidance for those trying to end smoking.

The medical profession emphasises that there will always be a place for face-to-face consultation and being seen in person can be more productive. Nonetheless, with more elderly patients and fewer GPs, it is possible that apps will have an increasingly important role to play in the near future.

With so many apps on offer, GPs have been slow to start prescribing them to patients, ensuring that they have been thoroughly checked for health relevance and safety. Previously, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley hoped the process would have started in 2012.

Alex Wyke, chief executive of Patient View, which publishes myhealthapps.net, understands these concerns. She said: “How do I know it’s good? Is it safe? What do other people think about it? These are the questions being asked.”

Her website relies on recommendations from patient groups, consumer groups and patients themselves for their list of more than 400 health apps, which in turn have a rating based on those recommendations.

The apps are split into 11 different categories as follows: bones and muscles, breathing and lungs, heart circulation and blood, me and my doctor, mental health, nervous system and brain, sexual health, staying healthy, stomach and bowel continence, support for senses, mobility and learning and other long term conditions.

Here are some of the top health apps available:

Diabetes IQ with UCSF. This app is designed to educate users about diabetes and offers a diary that can be used to promote self-management. Features include: quizzes, visual puzzles, feedback and comparisons between the user’s results and those of other participants. The app also includes an integrated ‘Directory’ containing contact details of the co-developer’s teaching and research facilities and lists a variety of diabetes-management resources.

BabyWatchAPP. This app was created so that a parent-to-be can listen to their unborn child’s heartbeat and to see the heartbeat as a moving visual image. The sound file can then be shared with family and friends via the developer’s ‘GlobalBeat’ social platform. The app has received FDA approval as a medical device and the developer has declared the app CE marked.

VizWiz. This app allows a visually-impaired user to put specific questions to sighted people, and then receive spoken answers from them in nearly real-time, often around 30 seconds later. The user first takes a picture with their phone, before asking a short question to the ‘human cloud’ on social network sites before receiving answers from sighted individuals.

What health app would you like to see on the market?

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