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Apps for Good Health

Times of India
21 Aug 2012

The idea of medically–prescribed apps excites some people in the health care industry,who see them as a starting point for even more sophisticated apps

Before long,your doctor may be telling you to download two apps and call her in the morning.Smartphone apps already fill the roles of television remotes,bike speedometers and flashlights.Soon they may also act as medical devices,helping patients monitor their heart rate or manage their diabetes,and be paid for by insurance.The idea of medically––prescribed apps excites some people in the health care industry,who see them as a starting point for even more sophisticated applications that might otherwise never be built.But first,a range of issues around vetting,paying for and monitoring the proper use of such apps needs to be worked out.

It is intuitive to people,the idea of a prescription, said Lee H Perlman,managing director of Happtique,a subsidiary of the business arm of the Greater New York Hospital Association.Happtique is creating a system to allow doctors to prescribe apps,and Perlman suggested that a change in the way people think about medicine might be required: Were basically saying that pills can also be information,that pills can also be connectivity. Simple apps that track users personal fitness goals have gained wide traction.Now medical professionals and entrepreneurs want to use similar approaches to dealing with chronic ailments like diabetes or heart disease.If smartphone–based systems can reduce the amount of other medical care patients need,the potential benefit to the health care system would be enormous;the total cost of treating diabetes alone in 2007 was $174 billion,according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.But unlike a 99–cent game,apps dealing directly with medical care cannot be introduced to the public with bugs that will be fixed later.

The industry is still grappling with how to ensure quality and safety.One of the pioneers in the prescription–app field is a company called WellDoc.Its DiabetesManager system,which patients can use through a smartphone app,standard cellphone or desktop computer,collects information about a patients diet,blood sugar levels and medication regimen.Patients can enter this data manually or link their devices wirelessly with glucose monitors.DiabetesManager then gives advice to a patient,perhaps suggesting the best food after recording a low midday bloodsugar reading.

It uses an algorithm to analyse the medical data and send clinical recommendations to doctor.WellDoc says that in a clinical trial,DiabetesManager was shown to reduce significantly the blood sugar levels in diabetes patients.Those results persuaded the Food and Drug Administration to give the system clearance to operate as a medical device.At more than $100 a month,the cost is more akin to diabetes drugs than to most smartphone apps.But two insurance companies have agreed to pay the bill for patients whose doctors ask them to use the system when it is available early next year,said Anand K Iyer,companys president.He declined to name the companies.

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