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The future of medicine: Apps built for patients by their doctors or hospitals
When most of us think about mobile devices and apps in healthcare, we tend to think about the ways that doctors and nurses can use tablets or smartphones to improve the care that they provide. One of the first images to come to mind is a doctor checking an electronic health record on an iPad as he enters the exam room, a nurse recording vital signs on a smartphone, or a specialist explaining a procedure or the results of a scan on a tablet in a hospital room -- apps and tools that used by healthcare providers rather than apps used by us. Their patients.
Although healthcare has been undergoing a pretty visible transformation thanks to mobile devices and other provider-facing solutions like electronic health records, the patient or consumer experience of healthcare hasn't really been disrupted by mobile technologies. Most of us still schedule appointments by calling our doctor's office an fill out a paper form when we see a new doctor, and most of the information that we provide to our doctor is done in the exam room and isn't delivered electronically over the Internet.
But the current in-person (or by phone) paradigm of healthcare isn't going to last much longer. Having mastered the core internal technology issues, many doctors, hospitals, and app developers are beginning to turn their eyes towards empowering healthcare consumers with patient-facing apps. Right now, these early adopters of patient-facing technology may be the outliers in the U.S. healthcare market, but that is likely to change -- and to change quickly -- and providers that hang back are likely to find themselves losing patients (and income) faster than they expect.
Convenience and opportunity
Since Apple launched the first mobile app store five years ago, we've downloaded billions of apps. We can pay our bills, research new cars, respond to questions from our bosses, and keep in touch with our friends and families from anywhere at anytime. We integrate new apps for new and longstanding challenges or needs all the time.
We're already using apps for many aspects of our health: Consumer-oriented medical reference apps, health and fitness tracking apps, and apps that connect to consumer health monitoring devices like mobile-enabled blood pressure and glucose monitors, as well as quantified-self solutions like the Fitbit or Nike FuelBand. Many of us are sharing that data with our doctors in one way or another. According to a Manhattan Research survey, 70 percent of doctors have at least one so-called self-tracking patient.
So why haven't we app-ified our medical care? It's not because we're uninterested. It's because most providers don't offer us the tools to do so.
The early adopters and innovators
While the vast majority of doctors, medical groups, and hospitals across the country haven't released patient-facing native or web apps, a few have begun to show the way.
In particular, hospitals, which can be disorienting and even frightening, can use patient-facing apps to help demystify an illness or surgery and the recovery process. Several hospitals have begun to do this with apps that help patients stay connected to their families, check-in with their doctors or other members of their care team, connect with programs for clinical trials, access reference material and hospital services, and use indoor GPS to navigate the often confusing corridors of most hospitals.
Here are some examples of early innovation in this space.
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