In 1977 the Apple II came out, and was marketed at $2638. Within three years they had sold 100,000 of the computers to homes around the USA and the world, and one of those consumers was cardiologist Dr George Diamond. It is a little known fact that George Diamond, who went on to have a successful career in cardiology at Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, created what could have been called the first ever health app. Using the 48kB of memory available on the Apple II, Diamond developed his software using complex algorithms to help diagnosis coronary heart disease more accurately. Steve Jobs met with Diamond to discuss his idea and potentially develop it with Apple, but in the end Jobs said it wasn’t the focus of his work at the time, and he is quoted to have said to Diamond “I can’t be distracted.” However, he also mentioned that he entirely agreed with George Diamond’s view that the future of computers like the Apple II could be an opportunity not as a toy, but something more serious, and that a “computer like this should be on the desk of every doctor in the world.” It is fascinating to think that health and computers have been so intrinsically linked since personal computer technology’s humble beginnings, especially when there is so much resistance within the healthcare industry today for change towards more technology. Diamond believed that integrating computers in institutions could revolutionise and build upon the service our doctors already provide, and that is exactly what programs like Isabel are trying to do.
Health apps for patients
There may be some resistance in the professional sphere for medical apps and mhealth in general, but for patients everywhere mhealth and health apps are really taking off. The iPhone 6 now comes equipped with an integrated ‘health’ app that can monitor walking, sleep, pulse, nutrition and even reproductive health, and android has the equivalent ‘S-health.’ As we learn more about healthy living, we become more aware of the things we are doing to achieve a healthy lifestyle, and we wish to record more and more, whether that be to instill motivation to improve or to maintain our health.
The 5 top consumer health apps
Below are the top 5 health apps for iOS, as recommended by healthcare professionals. The idea for this chart was created by HealthTap, who wanted to ensure that people had credible, medical information of which to base their health app choices, rather than relying on the reviews posted on the app store. The decisions for the rankings are based solely on how many of the doctors involved would recommend the app, in terms of medical accuracy, ease of use, effectiveness, validity and soundness, with the hope that it would have to be good for them to put their name behind the product and say “yes, I would tell someone to use this app.”
- Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker (MyFitnessPal.com) - MyFitnessPal is a weightloss and diet plan app that has an easy interface to enter everything you eat and all the exercise you do, in order to track your calorie intake and control your weight.
- Weight Watchers Mobile (Weight Watchers International) - Similar to MyFitnessPal, this app helps you track all your food intake and lose weight. However, this one is for the specific diet plan from Weight Watchers, which works with point allocations for certain foods rather than calories.
- Lose It! (FitNow) - Again focussing on calorie counting and nutrition, this app follows the same format. The only difference here is it’s ability to be controlled simultaneously by a personal trainer and a client, to work together towards fitness or weight loss goals.
- White Noise Lite (TMSoft) - If weightloss and fitness are first on the list of priorities where health is concerned, sleep is a close second. Our fascination with what happens when our eyes are shut has led to a lot of sleep apps, and this one comes in fourth. It helps those with busy or stressful environments get a decent sleep by providing ambient sounds to dose off to.
- First Aid (American Red Cross) - This app is quite literally a lifesaver. It provides the user with 18 different solutions to everyday first aid situations such as burns or even choking. It also helps people prepare for emergencies like storms and road traffic accidents.
It seems that the most useful and developed apps are currently calorie counters or fitness trackers, but sleep and the more interesting educational ones like First Aid are starting to get more recognition. The debate is very much alive where technology and health meet, and it’s not showing any signs of a decline. Many believe that it is a step in the right direction, but many others find themselves pointing out the dangers of googling symptoms and obsessing over your heart rate during sleep. However, as George Diamond, the researchers at HealthTap and the Isabel symptom checker all have in common is a view that health IT is there to aid the healthcare industry, not change it unrecognisably. Nothing can replace a real conversation with your doctor, but apps or systems validated and supported by healthcare professionals can help to make your relationship with your doctor the best it can be.