Are Smartphones Leading to Smarter Healthcare?

A topic of conversation for years in health policy circles involved how to get patients and consumers more personally engaged in their own healthcare.  We’ve held the conviction for quite some time that a better informed, more personally involved patient population could lead to better health maintenance and improved cost containment.

There’s a statistic that emerged this year that holds an important key in helping us achieve a more health-conscious society.

According to Nielsen, the people known for calculating TV ratings, we have now cracked the 50 percent barrier in the number of people who own smartphones.  More than half of us are carrying iPhones, Blackberries, Androids and the like.  And having these mini-computers in our hands opens up a wealth of opportunities to bring meaningful, proactive healthcare into our daily lives.

That’s happening today.  Health insurers like Aetna and Humana are providing mobile apps that enable policy holders to find the nearest urgent care centers and locate physicians in their network.  Health providers are using apps to allow patients to make doctor appointments, check lab results and gain access to a wealth of wellness information.

And then there are also smartphone apps that are both innovative and extremely practical like SleepChamp, a program that enables parents to determine if their children may be at risk for sleep-related breathing disorders.  A program like this truly exemplifies the way a smartphone can be used for proactive health purposes.  When parents answer questions on the SleepChamp program about their child’s sleeping habits, the app generates a score that alerts parents as to whether they should consult their pediatrician regarding potential problems.

There are important lessons to be learned through an app like this one, which was created by a health information technology company, Zansors, and the University of Michigan Health System, on making programs easy to use and visually appealing.  This will enable parents to identify signs of serious disorders like sleep apnea at an early stage.

One of the challenges, though, with so many smartphone apps entering the market is determining which ones are most reliable and useful.  On that front, Dr. Mike Roizen, the chief medical officer of the Cleveland Clinic (a Healthcare Leadership Council member) Wellness Institute and his frequent partner Dr. Mehmet Oz of television renown have written a column to help consumers determine which healthcare apps are most suitable for our individual needs.