May 9 2012
Do you consult the internet for medical advice if you or a loved one is unwell?
According to the many surveys published each year, more and more of us do exactly that. And not only do we consult the internet, it’s a resource we turn to more often than we did in the past – presumably because of the growing amount of credible and useful information that’s out there.
Another reason – obvious when you think about it – for increased use of social media and other web channels for health information is the emerging mobile web. Now that people have a genuine web experience on smaller devices such as mobile phones, there are far more opportunities during the day to check things out on the internet. Whether you’re sitting in the back of a taxi or sitting in a cafe – even one that doesn’t offer wi fi – we’re all connected now far more than before. And equipped with better devices, too.
And there’s a really good selection of apps and sites for those of us who want to find out more about conditions and treatments. For diagnoses there are things like iTriage and WebMD if you have a pressing concern, but you need to be aware that apps like these aren’t designed as a substitute for speaking to a health professional. So if you’re unwell, all apps can really do is offer a bit of info on what could possibly be wrong with you, but what they can’t do is provide a definitive answer.
Clearly, what we’re seeing here is a situation where people are able to access more and more medical info, and to a greater degree – not just of volume but of quality also. The level of interactivity – and this is a subjective call, since there aren’t any defined metrics – isn’t yet very advanced. This is in no means down to any lack on the part of developers, or because of unwillingness on the part of the users. It’s just because these types of apps are pretty much in their infancy, and have yet to reach their full potential.
Symptom checkers are of course one of the better selling medical app categories in the health and wellbeing bracket. But there’s a wide range of stuff available to suit just about anyone’s health and wellbeing interests. There are fitness apps that use GPS ingeniously, and you can even monitor your heart rate with an iPhone app. But, again a disclaimer: apps that do this are not medical devices, and shouldn’t be used as such.
Essentially what we have right now is a solid basis from which health and medical apps will, like the handheld machines that hold them, develop into something newer and even more exciting very soon.
Given how well the iPad has been received by medics, it’s surely only a matter of time before there are apps for it that have been designed for professional use. In much the same way as hospitals use various specifically designed computer programmes for desktop PCs, it has to be more or less certain that ways will be found to use the iPad in a diagnostic setting, and perhaps for other tasks as well within a general practice or therapy environment. And as the functionality of the machine itself begins to develop exponentially, we may one day see a machine that can see us, too – and maybe even deep inside us, identifying anything wrong and suggesting the best way to make it better.
So, could the iPad change medicine? Looks like it’s starting to already…
Ian produces content for axapppinternational.com, a worldwide private healthcare provider. He has written for numberous blogs, particularly in the health and technology sectors.