Could an app a day keep the doctor away?

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The search for health information online is now part of everyday life (we are living in a nation of cyberchondriacs after all). Yet the technology we’re using to find this information is changing as software giants try to keep up with our fast-paced lifestyles. Rather than Google-searching on a PC, Aussies are increasingly downloading the latest and funkiest health-related applications on their iPhones.

More than 70 per cent of us access information services from our mobile phones and with a rapidly increasing market share in Australia, the iPhone is predicted to surpass the BlackBerry as the dominant smartphone by this time in 2012. Stats show iPhone users in Australia consume a massive six times more data than the average mobile user – consuming almost 2MB more data per session and spending a lot longer browsing, even ahead of desktop users.

Capitalising on this consumer trend, Apple have hit the jackpot with the creation of their applications (or ‘apps’ for short) – third-party software programs developed specifically for the iPhone and iPod Touch that can be downloaded directly by the phone or downloaded onto a computer and transferred to the phone. And the good news is you can literally get an app for anything!

iPhone health apps

Could an app a day keep the doctor away? Cube healthcare communications blog

 Out of approximately 140,000 apps, there are around 3,100 within the ‘Health & Fitness’ category. Whether they are free or paid-for, global or local, the range of health apps is vast. From a lifestyle perspective you can track your personal food intake and the nutritional value of what you’re are eating with CalorieTrack, or for just $0.99 you can download SmokeCount to help boost your willpower in the battle against cigarettes.

From a healthcare perspective, examples include the AutismTest – developed by KOLs as an accurate guideline for self-screening; Drugs&Medications – a quick reference guide to FDA drug information aimed at pharmacists, nurses, physicians and students;  iAnemia – a ‘diagnostic medical tool’ for those managing blood diseases; and VaxTrack – a personal vaccination planner which links to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) schedule of recommended vaccinations.

Other useful examples include iDoc – a free US-based service through which users can get in touch with real physicians to ask medically-related questions (specialists available to answer questions include surgeons, medical specialists and mental health doctors), an app that has received great feedback from users; and Sleep Cycle – download the app, place your iphone under your mattress and the bio-alarm clock analyses your sleep patterns and wakes you when you are in the lightest sleep phase. The app uses the accelerometer in your iPhone to monitor your movement to determine which sleep phase you are in. This interactivity between the user’s physical environment and the software in their phone is where the potential for truly innovative, value-add apps really lies.

You’re also less likely to download a futile app as users can rate them individually, so you quickly get a sense of whether an app will offer any real value. The apps also link through to websites for further information. 

So could the iPhone app be the future of the online health search? More and more companies are incorporating the development of apps into their e-marketing strategies and we will no doubt see a major increase in the number of apps available to download this year.

And for those you use that don’t yet have an iPhone, don’t worry – the majority of apps also have versions available on BlackBerry and mobile phones running Google’s Android software.

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To Bing or to Google – a new e-health dilemma?

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To Bing or to Google – a new e-health dilemma?

A new e-health dilemma?

The battle for world search engine dominance enters a new phase this month with the arrival of a new ‘health’ search capability from Microsoft’s Bing, which seeks to challenge Google’s seemingly impenetrable global position. With health being one of the most commonly searched-for topics online, this could represent a very smart competitive move!

For those spending regular time researching health diagnoses or specific medical information (see our recent blog on ‘cyberchondriacs’), Bing does offer the potential to introduce some changes to their web search style. The .com community state Bing prioritises nine trusted and verified medical resources – such as the Mayo Clinic – as the basis of its search capabilities, making it easier to find results that can be trusted.

The declaration that Bing joins Yahoo in the war against the ‘ten blue links’ approach to reporting search results does not in fact appear to be the case in reality! But what Bing does offer is a Quick Preview feature giving text based summaries of pages displayed in the search results. An Explorer Pane also allows quick access to symptoms, causes and treatments. 

Bing offers good practical features to support general health searches – but cannot surpass Google’s unique health strategy which offers the potential for secure and private storage of medical records, easy reference to relevant health information and connection to service providers. This personal, secure medical storage capability could gain greater attention as the Federal Government make moves mid-year to integrate and digitise medical records. Discussion has already commenced on the security of the new national identity system – a key component of this new legislation.

So will health prompt the masses to start ‘Binging’ instead of ‘Googling’?  Some say if Microsoft continues to make ongoing improvements and embark on a massive advertising initiative, Bing does stand a chance in converting more than an impressionable few! Watch this space.

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Doctor or dotcom – is a digital diagnosis more important than the doc?

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Have you ever found yourself reaching for your keyboard to research an ailment you are convinced you are a perfect candidate for? “Feeling fatigued? Check! Some weight gain? Yes! General muscle pain? That confirms it, I have contracted an incurable disease,” you hear yourself say.

If this is vaguely familiar, consider yourself an active contributor to a nation of ‘cyberchondriacs.’

Most of us will admit to Googling ‘[name of an exotic/obscure illness] + symptoms’ following a late night viewing of Medical Mysteries – but are Aussies taking their health too lightly by substituting doctor with .com?

New research from research company TNS found that 1 in 4 Australians will search the internet for medical advice to self-diagnose and even treat themselves. Over a quarter of this group feel that they are able to diagnose and treat an ailment without the need of a healthcare professional.

Considering ‘pregnancy’ and ‘cancer’ are the top two Googled health conditions (generating around 7.7 million search queries each month) and the fact that anyone can publish anything online (Wikipedia, anyone?) – these findings are somewhat concerning. 

A recent HCF survey also reveals that Gen Y and women are the most common web medicos. Could this be because more than half of those aged 18-34 said they were too embarrassed to talk to a GP?

Searching for health information online

Searching for health information online

Both TNS and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) agree that while the internet has its uses, those searching for health information must be careful. People may be at risk of diagnosing non-existent symptoms and possibly using treatments which may not be appropriate.

So, next time a mystery illness on hospital drama House prompts you to e-diagnose, remember to take the information with a grain of salt and speak to your pharmacist or GP                                                                                                     if you have concerns.

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