WEB REVIEW: In often-frivolous app world, these can save lives

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Jim Cota

I got an e-mail yesterday from my 74-year-old father that caused me to pause for a moment, ask myself a couple of unanswerable questions, and realize just how much the world is changing. The e-mail itself wasn’t remarkable, though my dad is an entertaining and adept writer. But the concept contained between the lines is fairly astounding. Dad wrote:

“We spent this Easter with our daughter, Marjorie, in Annapolis. The ladies wanted to go shopping on Saturday. As an obedient husband, I agreed to go, secretly figuring I could at least get some mall walking done.

“While on my route, what should appear but the Apple Store! OH JOY! What more could a red-blooded American male hope for? I first encountered the new IPad2 counter. I picked one up, held it, coveted it, tested it. (Never mind that I have an IPad. This is an IPad2!) One is on order for the Mrs. It will arrive next week. (I need one!)

“Across from that counter is the counter with the iPods. I don’t have a new one; mine is the original issue. Boy, are the new ones cool. (I need one!)

“What is over there? Oh, it’s the IPhone4. I don’t have one of those! (I need one!)

“All of these counters are packed with young people who are enraptured with this new technology. I keep making my way to the rear of the store and wait to find a clerk (I don’t know if that is what they are called at the Apple Store, but you know what I am talking about.) Finally, I have someone’s attention. ‘Yes you can help me, I’m looking for the iHealth Blood Pressure Cuff.’”

“Well, I have defined my age group. Now let me tell you about my purchase. I downloaded the free app to run my blood pressure cuff. I plug in my IPad to the docking station and enter my name. I take my blood pressure and it is analyzed, stored in history, able to be easily shared with my physician (which is a really big deal for me as he has been on my case for some time for not being very responsible for doing all of the above.) It’s easy and it makes me feel like I have taken some control over my well being.”


Now, while I was pleased to hear that Dad was finally taking steps (and responsibility) for his health, that last paragraph floored me. Research has shown that people who keep track of data like this are more likely to act on that data. There are lots of apps that help you track your workout information to help keep you motivated and give you a sense of accomplishment. Nike has found that people using their Nike+ app are more likely to stick with their workouts. In fact, it has shown that if you use the app just five times, you’re significantly more likely to keep exercising. 

There are other apps, such as Health Nexxus, that allow you to track the results of lab tests your doctor orders for you. The integration automatically downloads the results of each test and presents them in a way to help you understand what the test is, what it’s used for, and what your results might mean. There are apps, such as MinervaPHR, that provide you access to your own complete medical records on your mobile devices.

But Dad’s experience is different. He isn’t just recording workout data or accessing records that already exist, he’s creating his own diagnostic information. In a sense, he’s taking a simple event that normally happens only in the doctor’s office and making it part of his normal routine. In addition, all of that health history is being recorded and the app can flag the results as something to warrant additional attention. This opens a world of possibilities.

Why not have diabetes patients perform their blood monitoring with an app that records the results so they can see trending data? Why not have a thermometer that would analyze your child’s fever, check his heart rate, and analyze his saliva all at the same time? Why not create a way to perform simple blood tests at home and use the processing power of the iPad to monitor the results, inform us of anomalies, and prompt us to act accordingly?

All this is timely for our aging population and represents a great business opportunity. Personally, it could hardly have come at a better time. You see, Dad suffered a stroke four weeks ago. Even though his carotid artery was only 50 percent to 60 percent occluded, his symptoms caused the neurologist to call for a vascular surgery consult. The surgeon recommended a carotid endarterectomy, where they removed some plaque and an additional clot that probably would have resulted in a major stroke within 90 days, according to the surgeon.

Luckily, he has no residual effects and is getting stronger daily. I’m left wondering if a day will come when we’ll use these smart devices to warn us of these impending events with enough time to act on them.

I think we will.•


Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.


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