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Published on June 30th, 2013 | by Danny Roberts


A Proposed Marriage Between Mobile Apps and Healthcare

The American healthcare system is in crisis. It’s a giant headache and everybody knows it. While much of the problem requires a political solution, or maybe even a complete social overhaul, there are some issues individuals can hope to address themselves. And again, it’s technology to the rescue!

Don’t get the wrong idea, the healthcare industry is totally inundated with technology. In fact, doctors and hospitals can’t even keep up with advances in biotech and the constant pressure to be on the cutting edge contributes to the rising costs of healthcare. I’m talking about apps.

These days, there’s an app for everything—well, almost—the healthcare industry is one of the few remaining industries where there’s still quite a bit of room for innovation. With nearly everyone walking around with a little supercomputer in his or her pocket, apps for healthcare could be the next line of defense against the healthcare industrial complex. And while it’s a relatively unexplored frontier, some great apps already exist and no doubt new ones are in the works.

Apps for wellness have been around for a few years. You can log how many miles you run, your heart rate, measure your caloric intake and more. With a little help and more accurate knowledge at our fingertips, we could possibly put off having to go to the doctor—which should be the ultimate goal anyway.

For those with a pre-existing condition, apps can keep your doctor visits to a minimum while actually keeping you in closer contact with your physician. Take Glooko Logbook for example. This app allows diabetics to monitor their blood sugar, carb intake and insulin dose, plus you can log how you feel at any given time. The app can then analyze the data, allowing you to better understand risk factors, the effects of what you eat and your activities and give you a better general sense of how to be healthier. Then, with the click of a button, all this info can be sent to your doctor.

There are similar apps for asthmatics, people with sleeping disorders and more. All of this puts more of the power of information into the hands of the patient. A longstanding complaint patients have of their doctors is that they come into the examination room, poke around a little bit, give vague answers to questions and leave without understanding the patient’s life or the context of their ailment. Apps like this can help remedy this problem.

Perhaps the biggest frustration with medical care is the financial aspect. Apps exist to help, but this is one problem that’s going to require some cooperation from the healthcare industry. Doctors are notorious for not disclosing the costs of their services. Insurance companies are worse. They seem to profit off of people’s ignorance of their own policies and you almost need a law degree and 10 years experience as a bureaucrat to understand the fine print. This needs to change.

Pokitdok is an app that attempts to keep healthcare finances as transparent as possible. It allows you to compare the price, and thus make a value judgment between doctors while crowdsourcing doctor ratings. Before you make a decision to about which cardiologist to see, for example, you can see their rates compared to other cardiologists in your area and read what other patients have said about the care they received.

Still, this leaves out insurance companies. Maybe some entrepreneur out there can come up with an app that translates insurance policies, comparing them by monthly cost, deductible, co-pay, what’s covered, what’s not covered and provide examples, like:

“If you break your leg and have it treated at St. Luke’s Hospital with insurance policy ‘x,’ your out-of-pocket expense will be $600. With insurance policy ‘y,’ your out-of-pocket expense is $700, but with insurance policy ‘y,’ your monthly bill is $80 less, making it a better value.”

Whoever can come up with something like that would deserve a ticker tape parade. Maybe we’d finally see some real competition between insurance companies.

Ironically, information is possibly where the healthcare industry lacks technologically. It’s mind-boggling how many doctors still have entire rooms (and staff) dedicated to antiquated paper filing systems. If we can bring medical records into the information age, we’d see decreased costs and headaches. Perhaps the next app entrepreneur might find a way for patients and healthcare providers to integrate the mountains of information needed to provide informed, quality care. Furthermore, with Obamacare starting to take effect, the federal government might be more inclined to streamline medical records. Now would be a perfect opportunity to latch onto that potential.

Again, a massive effort would be needed on the part of the industry itself, but somebody’s got to give them a little push.

With healthcare being the mess that it is, and politicians and CEO’s seemingly in each other’s pockets for their own benefit, it appears the impetus for change will have to come from the people. Mobile apps and the technology entrepreneurs that build them—as well as their proliferation—could provide the incentive politicians and corporations need to get on the ball. The potential is there.

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