Monday, February 9, 2015

mHealth Apps Pose Opportunities for the Chronically Ill

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In the age of non-stop data consumption, it’s not surprising that mHealth apps are booming. Approximately 58 percent of Americans own smartphones, allowing them instant access to the more than 100,000 mobile health apps that exist on Apple and Android operating systems. This is both a bad thing and a good thing. Negatively, it allows healthy Americans to indulge their hypochondriac ways with the tap of their finger.

I am no exception. Until recently (when I was forced to delete it from my phone by a mental health professional), I had the WebMD app on my phone, enabling me to symptom check every little twinge I felt in my body. In one day, I was convinced I had appendicitis, cancer, and the flu, when in reality I had nothing more than a simple cold. I also use mobile health apps in a constructive way. When I was training for a half-marathon several years ago, I used Runkeeper to track my fitness progress throughout training.

Positively, mHealth apps can be tools for patient engagement and empowerment, and those with chronic illnesses can benefit greatly from using these applications. Mobile health app publishers recognize this; therefore, it’s not surprising that they predominantly target the chronically ill (31 percent). Mobile health apps can help the chronically ill take control of their care by tracking their symptoms, setting reminders to take medication, and many other things.

There are many mHealth apps available for patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the two diseases that fall under the inflammatory bowel disease umbrella. These include symptom trackers, bathroom locators, colonoscopy prep assistants, general disease information providers, and just for fun apps.

Two of the apps widely used by IBD patients are GI Monitor and GI Buddy.

GI Monitor was launched in 2011 by a patient with ulcerative colitis who was looking for a way to track his symptoms and take control of his health care. According to its website, GI Monitor allows patients to “easily and accurately log symptoms and provide this data to their doctors for optimal treatment. In addition, patients can see correlations between symptoms, meals and medications.” The app also allows you to connect with other IBD patients in real time to discuss the diseases. In the four years since it was launched, there have been 359,162 downloads of GI Monitor and the app currently has 142,099 registered users.

GI Buddy, an app from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America with support from AbbVie, allows patients to track their disease symptoms, track treatments, log meals, and generate reports to see how their disease is progressing. The app, launched in 2012, has been downloaded 20,395 times and generates approximately 9,600 app visits per month.

Similar apps are available for almost many chronic illnesses- from diabetes to kidney disease to asthma to chronic pain and beyond. The reason apps focused on those living with chronic illnesses are so common is because they are critical to bridging the gap between the doctor’s office and their home life.

According to HIMSS’s mHealth Roadmap, “These real-time monitoring devices—educational apps and symptom trackers—connect and promote the self-management of a person’s health at a tremendous cost-savings to patients, providers and employers. Innovations in mHealth transform the care of chronic diseases by creating a continuous patient/care team interaction in place of the episodic one that exists today.”

While our relationship with mHealth apps is a complicated one, it is one that will only deepen with time. As apps evolve, they will be able to help improve the quality of care chronically ill patients receive even more. I can’t wait to see what the next generation of mHealth apps brings to the table to further empower patients to take control of their care.

About the author:
Rebecca Kaplan is a communications consultant, freelance writer, and blogger. You can read more about her life loving someone with Crohn's disease on her blog, on Huffington Post, or follow her on Twitter

She will also be joining us this year at ePharma as an official guest blogger sharing insights from the event.  ePharma will take place February 24-26, 2015 in New York City.  As a reader of this blog, when you register to join us with priority code XP2006BL, you can save $100 off current rates!
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