Digital Doctor – Are Apps The Future Of Healthcare?

Earlier this month, Google rolled out its ‘Health Card’ app in India. Google Health Card allows users to flip through over 400 ‘cards’ in order to swiftly correlate symptoms and learn more about diseases. While the concept may sound reasonably basic, the interface and efficiency of the app combined with the considerable expertise which came into the making of it renders it a very useful little tool. More to the point, the giant Google leaping into the health app fray indicates that they’re taking the medical potential of digital platforms very seriously indeed. As are many other observers, commentators, health providers, and businesses.

Doctor Google’

We all know that googling your symptoms is never a good idea. ‘Doctor Google’ will convince you in no time at all that a simple cold is Ebola, or that a stress headache is a brain aneurysm. Despite this, however, Google states that one in twenty Google searches are health related. For this reason,  it decided last year to put health-related information into its Knowledge Graph. The idea was not only to give Google an edge when it comes to amateur diagnostics – but also to prevent the dissemination of inaccurate healthcare information. Rather than relying on the hysterical hypochondriac power of user-generated health forums etc, Google’s own knowledge could commune directly with the searcher – and hopefully give more accurate and relevant information. This applies a certain amount of corporate clout to the world of digital diagnosis – but also indicates that Google is perhaps trying to reassert supremacy in the growing world of digital and app-based healthcare. The release of Google Health Card in India may be just another aspect of Google’s medical gameplan.

Health And Fitness Apps

Growing interest in our personal fitness has coincided with the kind of technology which can help us to monitor and control our health. Exercise gadgets like pedometers and exercise machine interfaces have been with us for a while now, but the introduction of linked apps has seen an explosion in health and fitness monitoring technology. From fitbits to diet plan apps, we’re able to weigh calories burned against calories consumed like never before – as well as assessing precisely what the things we’re eating and the activities are doing to our personal physiques. In the not-too-distant future, gadgets will be able to intensively monitor our vital statistics (including blood chemical content, among other things) and feed back to trained medical professionals. While there is the potential for people to get  a little obsessive about this , there is also a lot of potential for serious help where it’s needed. For example, borderline or recovering alcoholics with an app which monitored blood alcohol levels over time and fed that information back to a specialist are more likely to get the tailored help they need  to cut down their alcohol than if they were able to lie about the amount they’ve been drinking. From a business point of view, apps which fed certain health-based information to human resources could enable employees to get the help they need for any conditions from which they may be suffering (for example, gluten-free options in the canteen, ergonomic furniture, more breaks etc). If, that is, such a thing would not be too much of an infringement upon individual privacy…

Health Vs Individuality

There’s a very good reason why our medical records are kept private. For centuries, the Hippocratic Oath has bound doctors  to keep the medical information of their patients “unutterable”. And very glad many of us are about that, too! Who, after all, wants the world to know about their irritable bowels, or their persistent urinary tract infection, or even about the sneaky pint they enjoyed on a work night? Indeed, many people have let their conditions run on for years rather than having anyone – even a doctor – know about them. Clearly it is very important that the   standards of medical confidentiality remain unimpeachable. Apps which fed information – however innocuous – back to a third party would have to have their legal ramifications looked at in great detail, and the issue of consent must never be underestimated. Nor should individuals who refuse to use any app which informed their employer of physical information (however ostensibly harmless) be penalized for doing so. It’s a situation which is doubtless going to come into play and begin causing friction before very long – watch this space.

Author

This is an article by Helen Freeman

 

 

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