Dr. Campbell: Apps can provide a path to wellness

Dr. Campbell: Apps can provide a path to wellness (Image 1)
Dr. Campbell: Apps can provide a path to wellness (Image 1)

Applications for mobile devices are commonplace.  These small but often
sophisticated programs are quite varied and allow for anything from vehicle GPS
navigation, taxicab or car pickups in New York City or rating wines and

As with most new gadgets and technologies, medicine and healthcare provide
many opportunities for expansion and use. When we examine the available
applications found at the Apple App Store, it is evident that medical mobile
applications continue to be developed at a remarkable pace.  In response,
the FDA is actively involved in developing strategies for evaluation and
approval of new medical related applications as the market continues to rapidly
grow and evolve.

As the medical application industry grows, more disease specific programs
have been created.  There are already several advanced apps that allow for
tracking medications, daily weights, blood pressure and blood sugars. However,
some of the more popular applications focus on more basic strategies for
improving overall health status.  Many of these newly developed general
health and fitness applications focus on self-help, diet and exercise.  As
we all know, diet and exercise are key components to making wholesale lifestyle
changes and these changes can significantly reduce risk for chronic disease.

It stands to reason that many of the new medically relevant applications
have focused on tracking dietary habits – calorie counts, food dairies, etc.
 In particular, dietary applications can make a huge difference in our behaviors.
 For instance, an application that tracks everything you eat can be quite
eye opening.  In general, we have no idea as to the calories we take in on
a daily basis–combine this with an app that can also track calorie expenditure
and you have real time data that can be the impetus for change.  Data
empowers us all – both doctor and patient.

This week in the New York Times, personal tech author Kit Eaton explores
several new applications for iOS and Android that are specifically devoted to
diet.  These applications provide the user the ability to create a food
log and to actually scan labels to obtain exact nutrition information and
calorie counts.  These applications then can track your exercise habits
and estimate your calorie expenditures – some are even able to make suggestions
for healthy food choices based on your pattern of intake and output.  

Most start with the input of basic data such as height, weight and age. Preventative
care is the single most important thing physicians can do for their patients
during this time of reform.  We have long known that chronic conditions
such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and hypertension are directly related to
obesity.  Obesity and obesity-related illnesses account for nearly $150
billion dollars of healthcare costs each year in the U.S. alone.  

Applications that provide assistance in lifestyle modification and risk
factor reduction can have an enormous impact on our ability to successfully
change negative habits. As we move forward as physicians, it will be important
for us to engage patients and assist them in taking individual responsibility
for their own health.  Applications are an important way for us to
directly involve patients and promote change.

Based in California, an application known as Lift is working to make an impact now.  The motto
on the Lift home page says it all:  “Unlock your potential..change your
life.”  Working with researchers at UC-Berkeley, Lift's designers are now
studying the effectiveness of individual diet plans on overall health and
wellness.  Previous studies have compared the effectiveness of one or two
diets against each other or a control – however, no one has ever evaluated
several diets at one time via a mobile application.  The quantified diet project,
as it is known, is likely to provide us with important information about the
effectiveness of mobile technology and mobile “coaching” and its role in
patient compliance and success.  Moreover, it will provide the opportunity
to directly compare several popular diet plans all in one large study group.

Mobile applications have the potential to revolutionize preventative care.
 As we continue to work to engage our patients and motivate them take
individual responsibility for their health status, we must take advantage of
emerging technologies.  Simple applications may result in significant
changes.  Embrace change.  Embrace technology.  Advocate for
your patients and prescribe an app today! (An app a day make keep the doctor

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