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Roundup: What’s New in the World
of Health Care Apps

Since 2006, we’ve been tracking the re-birth of health online. Of course it never really went away, but the e-health frenzy of the late 1990s really only left WebMD standing. Few were online to actually manage their health. Most were just reading about it. That’s all changed.

We’re now in a world where the cloud, ubiquitous smart devices and sensors are all coming together to become what we call “unplatforms” for apps and the data that is flowing over them. That health data is starting to be captured and shared between them in a “data utility layer.”

What this all means is that there’s huge number of devices and applications available to be used by all types of players in the healthcare sector. And that use is starting to grow. We picked three areas that are on the cusp of becoming an everyday big deal in health.

Personal Data Tracking

Back in 2007, a new kind of health movement was born in California: Quantified Self emphasized tracking of everything from exercise to productivity to spiritual well-being, all in the pursuit of better health.

Some quantify themselves to improve their wellness while others do it out of necessity. For example, patients with diabetes manage their blood glucose levels through a combination of food, exercise and medication. Instead of using a paper and pen to regularly record all of this information, new apps allow diabetics to monitor their blood glucose levels on mobile devices. The iBGStar for the iPhone was cleared for use in the U.S. in December. The small meter plugs right into the phone, which stores the data on an app so it can be analyzed over time. Users can also email their information to their doctor or nurse.

Quantified selfers of all kinds now enjoy apps that not only digitize their personal data, but capture it without them even having to lift a finger. The Withings armband measures blood pressure and connects to an iOS device. The recorded systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings can be emailed to physicians or automatically synched with a personal health record. Another is the Zeo sleep quality monitor for Apple and Android devices. A headband tracks sleep stages throughout the night and then wirelessly sends information about the user’s sleep quality to a smartphone. The app helps them to see what factors (such as three or more cups of coffee in one day) impact their sleep. Anderson Cooper is now obsessed.

The FitBit personal sensor is designed to be worn 24/7 in order to track steps, distance walked or ran and sleep quality. Data automatically uploads to a base station connected to a Mac or PC. The online application allows users to track daily progress and compare to others in their age and fitness range. The personal profile also integrates with workout and meal information users record on their smartphone.

The quantified-self movement might not be mainstream, but certain wellness and nutrition programs with similar logic are. For example, Weight Watchers sets customized weight loss goals based on a number of personal variables. When the program began 45 years ago, dieters had to manually track their caloric intake and fitness levels. Now, they can use an app for that.

Online Appointments

Those who aren’t and never will be into the habit of quantifying still can’t deny that there are some new apps that just make life easier. We’re starting to see this happen in the realm of appointment booking. Both online and mobile apps are giving patients the opportunity to find and book appointments with providers online.

ZocDoc is a web site that allows users to search for doctors by city, specialty or insurance. By providing real-time information, patients can see which appointments fit into their schedules, and doctors can fill gaps in their day caused by last- minute cancellations. The application is free to patients (doctors pay some $200 a month for it) and can also be used on smartphone devices to book appointments.

Walgreens, which is recently showing a lot of interest in providing Health 2.0 apps to customers, allows patients at its Take Care Clinics to use its site to schedule appointments online. The web-based app also allows patients to view a menu that helps them to evaluate the cost of services as well as patient satisfaction scores. And, for patients who need to do a walk-in visit, the site allows them to view wait times at local clinics.

iTriage, recently acquired by health insurer Aetna, recently came out with an updated version of its popular health care app for Apple and Android devices. The app can especially be useful in urgent medical situations. The app uses the phone’s GPS capabilities to find the nearest provider, and a patient can book an appointment and then get turn by turn directions to the facility.

Physician Tools on The iPad

Physicians love their iPads. Thirty percent of U.S. physicians owned one just one year after the iPad was first released, and an additional 28 percent said they planned to purchase the device within the next six months, according to a 2011 study by Manhattan Research. The findings aren’t surprising since tablets remind doctors of the clipboards that many abandoned when they switched from paper to electronic medical records.

Drchrono created a cloud-based platform for the iPad that includes an electronic medical record, e-prescribing and paperless billing. It was the first native iPad app to receive Meaningful Use certification. Practice Fusion launched its EMR for the iPad last February. The company first offered a free, web-based EMR, and now physicians can access their records through their Apple tablets with the purchase of a $30 app. It’s not just the start-ups that are getting in on iPad apps. Industry giant Cerner recently released PowerChart+Touch optimized for the iPad.

The Future

These are just three areas where new form factors of technology - the iPad, on-body sensors and wirelessly connected data - are starting to have a real impact. In our database, Health 2.0 tracks over 1,500 companies in 19 different segments. And this market is just getting started.

The next few years will see not only more new technologies but also giant healthcare and consumer companies acting as distribution channels for them. It’s going to be fun and it’s also going to change how consumers and clinicians view their health.

This post first appeared at Executive Insight.

Health 2.0