Do-it-yourself healthcare with Smartphones

TECHNOLOGY & YOU

Do-it-yourself healthcare with Smartphones

For more and more people, computers and software are becoming a critical part of their health care.

Thanks to an array of small devices and applications for smartphones that gather vital health information and store it electronically, consumers can take a more active role in managing their own care, often treating chronic illnesses — and preventing acute ones — without the direct aid of a physician.

“Both healthcare providers and consumers are embracing smartphones as a means to improving health care,” said Ralf-Gordon Jahns, head of research at research2guidance, which follows the mobile industry.

He added that the firm’s findings “indicate that the long-expected mobile revolution in healthcare is soon to happen.”

With a rapidly aging population in some parts of the world and curbs on government spending, the use of computer-compatible devices and online tools as part of a program of preventive medicine is a growing industry.

A report by Parks Associates in February estimated that in the United States alone, revenue from digital health technology and services would exceed $5.7 billion in 2015, compared with $1.7 billion in 2010, fuelled by devices that monitor chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes and by wellness and fitness applications and programmes.

In January, the French start-up Withings introduced a Wi-Fi-enabled cuff that can take your blood pressure and pulse and that connects to an iPhone to synchronize the data with records kept online. The data can be securely stored on a personal page on the Withings website or with other personal health records, or with PHR service providers, like Google Health and Microsoft’s HealthVault, where it can then be accessed by your doctor.

In February, Entra Health Systems announced a deal with the Swedish mobile phone company Doro to make its ‘MyGlucoHealth’ service available on their senior-friendly cellphones. With a small device, blood glucose level readings can be sent by text message to a secure portal, which provides instant advice to users on what to eat.

MyGlucoHealth, which the company introduced in 2008, is also compatible with Google Health and HealthVault.

“Asia has a very high number of people with mobile phones and with diabetes,”  said John Hendel,chairman of Entra Health Systems. “It’s a market where there is a lot of genetic predisposition to diabetes, the health care system is typically underfunded and paid for by the patients, and so by coming up with a great cost-effective solution, it allows us to capture a big market piece that is just as important as the US market.”

A report in November by research2guidance estimated there were more than 17,000 mobile health applications designed for smartphones and that many were aimed at and being adopted by health care professionals. It forecast mobile and wireless health care services would expand significantly to reach 500 million mobile users, or about 30 percent of an estimated 1.4 billion smartphone subscribers worldwide, by 2015.

Microsoft’s HealthVault and Google Health, introduced in the US in 2007 and 2008 respectively, offer similar open platforms that allow people to store and manage their health information, including immunisations, disease history and prescriptions in one place, with access to the records possible via various devices or mobile applications.

The personal information is stored in a secure, encrypted database and the privacy controls are set entirely by the individual, including what information goes in and who gets to see it.

HealthVault’s software development kit has been downloaded 30,000 times. “I think this is the leading indicator of what will come forward,” Johnston said.  While Google Health is for now confined to the US, HealthVault has slowly rolled out its platform internationally, linking with local partners. It was deployed in Canada in 2009 through a partnership with Telus, in Germany though a deal with Siemens and in Britain through a deal with Nuffield Health in 2010.

In October, HealthVault also signed an agreement with a large systems integrator in China, iSoftStone, and the two companies are now focusing on a government program in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province.

So far, adoption of online personal health records by consumers has grown slowly. According to a survey by Knowledge Networks conducted in the United States last year, 10 percent of the public now uses PHR, compared with 3 percent in 2008. A similar proportion of doctors said they offered PHR tools to their patients.

Jay Chandran, associate research director of health care at Frost & Sullivan, a research and consulting firm, said he believed patients needed to have an incentive to maintain their online personal health records. Otherwise individuals were unlikely to find the motivation to keep their medical records up to date.

“PHR products will become more successful if data can be captured at the transaction level itself, that is, if a PHR can be a subset of electronic health records, where healthcare service providers provide real time information,” Chandran said.  
                   

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