Rest assured, there are plenty of apps (thousands actually) designed with the patient in mind, from the simple to those created by doctors and researchers themselves. Most are designed as preventative medicine. In the UK, doctors have been given a list of apps to prescribe to patients in the hopes of decreasing doctor visits by increasing preventative medicine.
First, always remember:
An app is never a substitute for proper medical advice. When in doubt, seek assistance from a licensed medical practitioner.
Skin Cancer Detection
In part one we took a look at some cool technology to assist dermatologists track questionable skin marks that can lead to cancer. But what if you have a moles that you aren’t sure about? There are a number of apps that use a smartphone’s camera to photograph a skin mark and then assess the likelihood of cancer.
Doctor Mole (for Android)
After taking a photo of a mole, this app uses augmented reality software to analyze for abnormalities and give a rating. While the technology can obviously be incorrect, it can give an indication of problems. It can also track changes in the skin over time by saving photo’s for later comparison. When tested by the doctors at imedicalapps.com, they found the app was, “remarkably good at detecting malignant lesions.” Better to be safe, than sorry.
Skin Scan ($4.99 iTunes Store)
Skin Scan works along the same lines as Doctor Mole. Take a photo of a mole for analysis, but this time the software sends the image to it’s server for an automated risk assessment. The results are sent back to the app with a risk rating. You can also archive results to track skin changes over time. Skin Scan told Gigaom.com that the algorithms used to assess severity are about 70 percent accurate, as opposed to about 85 percent accuracy by dermatologists. And, because the data processing is centralized to a server, the algorithms will become better over time, getting continually continually more accurate with user input. With an eye on the future, Skin Scan is hoping to eventually connect users with doctors for examinations without in-office visits.
We all need a little preventative medicine in our lives.
My Health Check 2012 ($0.99 at the iTunes store)
My Health Check 2012 was designed by Paul P. Hartlaub, MD, MSPH, a Preventive Medicine physician. This app provides recommendations for things such as frequency of mammograms, aspirin usage, prostate cancer screening and risk assessments for heart attack, stroke and osteoporosis. Users can search for data in three ways: by age and gender, or through lists for High-Risk Adults and a complete A-Z topic roll. Recommendations are based on, “trusted sources such as the US Preventive Services Task Force and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.” The doctor review from imedicalapps.com concluded, “The My Health Checklist 2012 App represents an outstanding, physician-authored, evidence-based resource for non-healthcare professionals to learn more about preventive health and health maintenance for themselves and their loved ones.” And, it’s easy to use.
The food we consume daily is a huge part of our overall health. There are plenty of apps to count calories, gather recipes and evaluate physical activity. But, have you ever read the label on your favourite prepackaged food? Being unable to pronounce or understand many of the ingredients can cause problems. Allergens and additives we really shouldn’t be consuming, can remain hidden within the scientific language. For instance, the words “natural ingredients” can contain hidden wheat gluten, which will cause serious harm to a person with Celiac Disease. There are a number of apps to help.
ScanAvert (US only, avail for iPhone and Android)
ScanAvert uses the smartphone’s camera to scan barcodes in the supermarket and the app will tell you whether the product is incompatible with your dietary restrictions, including allergens, pregnancy, drug interactions, Kosher, illness, etc. This app is a subscription based service with over 280,000 products in its database. If looking at a product of this sort, it’s a good idea to go with a subscription based one as the databases are dependant on constant upkeep. (There are similar versions available for download in Canada, but the ones I tried, didn’t work.)
Don’t Eat That ($1.99 in the iTunes store)
Similar to ScanAvert, Don’t Eat That is a database of food ingredients to help decipher food labels. Simply type-in the ingredient or search alphabetically. Working offline, this app offers information on over 1900 food ingredients, so you can take the app to the grocery store. The app boasts to tell if an ingredient is, “carcinogenic, banned in other countries, bad for kids or pregnant women, genetically modified, or causes drug interaction or allergies.” A great addition with those who try to avoid additives or have allergies.
Designed by The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, myIBD was developed to manage Inflammatory Bowl Disease (IBD) for young people living with diseases such as Crohn’s and Colitis. This app helps a young person track how they are feeling, what they have eaten, bathroom visits, and will translate it into a graph. The app also includes video links to help educate teens and their families.
Feeling glum, like the sun never shines, even on the nicest day of summer? App makers have ventured into the world of mental health and psychology.
Live Happy ($0.99 in the iTunes Store)
To assist with our daily happiness, there is the Live Happy app. As the name describes, this app is meant to be happiness boosting. It should “cultivate optimism and shake away negative thoughts,” through simple activities. The app includes a personalized happiness program, goal setting and evaluation, expressing gratitude and the ability to relive happy days and a reminder photo album, to name a few features. Developed by a team that includes Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, is based on her research and book, “The How of Happiness.”
In a follow up study, Dr. Lyubomirsky told the LA Times she found, “mood and happiness ratings went up when 327 participants used Live Happy over the course of three to 14 days — and the more the app was used, the more the ratings rose.”
iCouch CBT ($1.99 in iTunes store)
iCouch CBT is a psychology app based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, according to About.com Psychology is “a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviours. CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders, including phobias, addiction, depression and anxiety.” And now you can carry therapy around in your pocket.
The app is designed in a three part process:
- What Happened – where you describe an upsetting situation, negative feelings about it and rate intensity.
- Think About It – where you get to pause and evaluate the situation.
- Re:Think – where you get to come up with a new approach or thoughts on the situation
The iTunes description says, “iCouch CBT makes it easy to keep track of your thinking, analyze your emotions and change your outlook,” and is designed to help recognize thinking patterns. It has password protection, an editable log, and the ability to email directly from the app. For a fee they offer the ability to send collected data to a licensed psychologist for a personalized evaluation.
One reviewer, a psychologist, felt, “The app also provides an overview of CBT, which is useful for clients who want to understand the philosophy behind the technique. The interface is free of clutter and a home button makes it easy to return to the home page.” He felt the logs would be helpful for a therapist to review, adding an element to a patients therapy.
Whether these mental health apps work or not, is always going to be up for debate. For this, we will give the LA Times the last word.
Since none of these apps are pricey, it probably won’t wreck your mood (for long) if you make a less-than-happy choice. But “use caution” and remember that not all apps are equal from a scientific perspective, warns Dr. John Luo, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. The science behind apps based on cognitive behavioral therapy is sound, but many others, such as ones that promise to rejigger your brain wave frequencies, are “questionable,” he says. If an app sounds positively wacky — maybe it is.
That advice works for all apps, medical or otherwise; if it’s too “wacky,” take a pass.
In the upcoming final instalment of the iHealth Revolution we will take a look at how mobile is set to alter the way we receive medical care and some of the cautions to this hand-held and wireless medical technology.
Image Source: Realmente Joroscho