The Future of Healthcare: How Mobile Medical Apps Give Control Back to Us

January 18, 2017

If you’re waiting for the impact that medical apps will have on patients and society at large, then wait no longer. That future is here right now, as medical apps have already initiated a huge sea change in how patients relate to doctors, and vice versa. One of the things that patients have always wanted, but haven’t been able to get, is more control over their medical decisions . . . until today.

Apps are already empowering ordinary people to have more knowledge and say in their medical decisions. This is stellar news for people who have always wanted to take a more active role in their own healthcare, but have traditionally been stymied by a lack of visibility into their own personal health data. Medical apps are beginning to level the playing field in patients’ favor, and will ultimately change the future of healthcare forever.

How the Future of Healthcare Will Change Your Life

Chapter 1: The Doctor-Patient Relationship Will Be More Cooperative


Usually, if you have a problem (like a series of worrisome symptoms and/or signs in your body that won’t go away), you’ll call your primary care physician, set up an appointment, and, if he thinks it’s something serious, he’ll refer you to a specialist in your plan’s network of coverage. If you’re with a preferred provider organization (PPO) instead of a health maintenance organization (HMO), you can see your specialist directly if he’s part of your insurance company’s network.

A tool like the Isabel Symptom Checker lets you gain access to a service previously used only by the medical community. It empowers patients to research and find potential causes for their symptoms, all with a few taps and swipes. Armed with this knowledge—let’s say you find a possible cause of your troubles—you can greatly speed up your consultation with your primary care physician or specialist by:

  • Showing him the results of your app’s analysis
  • Doing away with a trial-and-error approach to medical diagnoses
  • Getting a clearer picture of the tests (if any) you need for a further and confirmed diagnosis

This app:

  • Saves you time
  • Saves your doctor time
  • Saves you from longer pain and suffering

Another example is ECG apps such as Kardia, which have been approved by the FDA. Kardia lets patients monitor their hearts’ health, thereby letting patients make their doctors’ jobs easier while still giving them accurate and quick access to their vital heart data.

Another way medical apps will help patients in the future is by drastically increasing patient safety.

Usually, when patients leave the doctor’s office or the hospital, they have a bunch of papers (doctor’s instructions, prescriptions, etc.), but very little memory of what they’re really supposed to do to take care of themselves when they’re at home.

Medical apps will help alleviate this confusion in the future by serving as the central hub for all the details patients need for a fast and healthy recovery. Patients will only have to take care of the most urgent or important one or two top tasks, and the app will manage everything related to patient safety and recovery by itself.

This includes the app regularly reminding patients to take their medications, monitor any side effects of treatment, and even transmit this data to their providers, whether that’s in the form of emails or text messages. Such advances will be increasingly beneficial for patient safety.

If there’s something that can be done digitally, it’ll be done. This includes:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Notifying you if the doctor will be late
  • Guiding you to follow the treatment plan properly

Think of the problems surrounding basic access to healthcare that are challenges for various communities, even in the U.S.

Before these healthcare apps, doctors and patients had to be in the same place face-to-face for treatment to happen. That limiting requirement is eliminated because appointments to discuss everything from test results, concerns, follow-ups, medication and exams can be done virtually through the app.

This unprecedented type of access will be a blessing for those who live in rural areas and those who live in war-torn or poverty-stricken areas in the third world.

Case studies have shown that patients recording info into their apps report more honest and reliable info than what they actually tell their doctors or healthcare professionals monitoring their progress. As such, apps will become the go-to patient diaries for candid info that patients might have trouble sharing with doctors face-to-face.

Chapter 2: Medical Apps Will Help Patients Save Money


Doctor visits are expensive, but medical apps are here to change that significantly in the near future. Some of the changes are already happening right now. Basically, it’s now possible for your smartphone to replace an in-person doctor consultation, and your virtual appointment—with a real doctor, though—can be cheaper than some real-life doctor visits.

According to the Economist, the average cost of someone staying the night in a hospital is $4,300. Suppose for a second that there was a medical app that efficiently tracked conditions in a person’s body that would alert the user that his health was deteriorating…well before it got so bad that he needed to go to the hospital. The savings, therefore, would be quite substantial, to the tune of $4,300 a year.

Take the appropriately titled Dr. Now, an app that allows patients to connect with their physicians over their smartphones through a video consultation. This UK-based medical app even features a specific cost calculator that invites users and patients to determine how much they can save per year with this app.

Since staff sickness—employees calling in sick for short durations of a few days—is what Dr. Now is designed to prevent with early diagnosis and recommended treatment, both employees and employers can expect to save a considerable amount of money when using medical apps like these. Staff sickness is what costs the average business almost 600 pounds per absent employee.

MeMD is a service that provides virtual consultations with doctors anytime and anywhere. For a no-hidden-costs fee of $49.95 per consultation, MeMD is more cost-effective than some co-pays. You can download its app on iTunes right here. Besides these useful services, there are also rich statistics to confirm how beneficial medical apps are.

Back in 2014, already one in six doctor visits were virtual, clearly indicating that this phenomenon is more than a trend. These so-called “eVisits” were expected to save approximately $5 billion that year compared to the costs of traditional, in-person visits.

Even United HealthGroup’s United Healthcare has started to offer coverage for virtual doctors’ visits to its customers.

Chapter 3: Increased Patient Demand for Medical Apps


With the increased control patients enjoy over their healthcare and the cost savings they receive from medical apps, patient demand for these apps is on the rise.

Wrap your head around this figure: 97,000+. That’s how many mobile apps there are related to health and fitness. To put this into perspective, consider that, as of June 2016, there are 2 million apps in the App Store alone. While that may not seem like much, consider that this is an app category that’s projected to only keep growing as the patient demand for apps grows.

The top ten mobile health apps produce 4 million free and another 300,000 paid downloads each and every day. Not only is there a market for this type of app, but the market is large and strong.

By next year, 50% of all smartphone users will have a health app on their phones! By next year the entire mobile health market will total $26 billion.

Here are the most popular medical apps that users generally download:

  • Weight loss (50 million)
  • Exercise (26.5 million)
  • Women’s health (10.5 million)
  • Sleep and meditation (8 million)
  • Pregnancy (7.5 million)
  • Tools and instruments (6 million)
  • Other (18 million)

It seems like doctors are resigning themselves to the inevitable, namely that medical apps are the future, and they want to be part of that. According to the Research Now Group, nearly 50% of doctors will introduce medical apps to their practice in the next five years. This is more good news for patients, as it seems that the last thing patients want is for doctors to resist this sea change.

Chapter 4: Doctors’ Response to New App Technology


A recent MedPanel survey showed that just 15% of all doctors in the U.S. are even discussing medical apps with their patients. Whether these doctors aren’t aware of the patient demand for these apps or simply don’t want to give up more control to patients is debatable. However, the silver lining even in this MedPanel survey is that 42% of those doctors surveyed admitted that their patients could benefit from the use of apps, which is an encouraging figure.

It may not be the wisest move for doctors to continue to be slow in advancing toward this more empowered, medical-app model of the near future of healthcare. According to an ITN Online study, 66% of Americans would use a medical app to manage health-related issues instead of a doctor.

These apps can solve a multitude of problems for doctors that their current way of practicing medicine simply can’t handle well. Hopefully as time goes on, more doctors will get on board with using and adapting apps into their practice.

Consider the following data:

  • Apps already empower patients to email their doctors the results of their electrocardiograms, saving a lot of time and work—in the future, even more complicated tests will be run and completed on apps
  • Lots of apps are actually designed for physicians themselves, including drug and disease databases and high-class monitoring devices, making their jobs easier
  • Some doctors already credit these apps for being time-savers, speeding up the process of diagnosis, and limiting unnecessary doctor and hospital visits to cut down on taxing resources
  • Some of the most popular apps that doctors use are Epocrates, Medscape and MedCalc

Apps like these used to sit in an irritating gray area that could have deterred some designers from proceeding with their awesome medical-app ideas, but the landscape is now starting to clear up a bit.

Chapter 5: Understanding Possible FDA Regulation of Medical Apps


One of the most important things that any medical-app maker has to know about is the potential Food and Drug Administration regulation of their app.

The easiest way for you to generally avoid running afoul of the FDA and getting entangled in legal wrangling is to steer clear of claiming that your app is meant to diagnose a certain disease or condition or to treat, mitigate, cure or prevent an illness.

The FDA will also not regulate apps that store patients’ information.

Now that that’s sorted out, here is what the FDA generally says about what devices qualify as medical apps, as disclosed in its updated February 2015 guidance document on mobile medical applications.

Your medical app can be considered a medical device (and is thus under FDA regulation) if it can be used to:

  • Diagnose diseases or other conditions
  • Prevent, treat, cure or help people cope with illnesses
  • Impact either the structure or function of the human body

What’s also important to understand is how the FDA has decided to classify medical apps as so-called medical devices, which subjects them to regulation. They have to fall under these three criteria:

Infographic 1 (1)

Thanks to the FDA’s recently updated guidelines on medical apps, they’ve since been liberated from that uncertain, troublesome gray area between computer apps and medical devices, thereby allowing designers to now finally have a clear-cut understanding of how to proceed with medical-app design and development without the fear of having the FDA come after them.

Chapter 6: Mobile Phone Attachments for Blood Tests


The usability of medical apps is getting to the point where entire tests that you once had to go to your doctor to do can now be done right through your smartphone. Simple attachments are usually all that it takes to supercharge your phone into a portable laboratory of sorts.

This can help save lives, as some blood tests center around life-and-death matters. Think about cases involving possibly fatal viruses like HIV, as well as routine checks for monitoring one’s blood sugar. According to reports, these ingenious and convenient smartphone attachments won’t be any larger than a card reader, further adding great value to the patient’s UX.

Possibly fatal diseases aren’t the only things that these smartphone attachments are good for. More commonly, they’ll be used for more mundane testing, which speaks to their wide applicability. Picture these smartphone attachments for everything from basic blood tests for kidney, liver and thyroid function to urine, breath and sweat analysis. There’s also an added bonus: The cost-saving implications of these attachments, both for patients and medical labs.

One of the better examples of this breakthrough is the HIV-reading smartphone dongle that attaches to the device quickly and easily. Not only does it give out readings in just 15 minutes, but its cost savings are also incredible. To wit, the average price of a typical HIV test is more than a whopping $18,000, yet this smartphone attachment can perform the same test for only a drop in the bucket at $34 (the cost of the attachment).


Because of all of these promising developments, the demand in the marketplace for medical apps in general has risen, which has already made certain apps remarkably popular.

Chapter 7: A Look at the Most Popular Medical Apps


Here are medical apps that improve the quality of life for patients for a number of reasons:

The majority of people aren’t ready to properly cope with accidents and disasters when they occur. This medical app aims to change all that by patient education. It offers a slew of step-by-step walkthroughs to guide people through common first-aid scenarios that can really save people’s lives in the event of an emergency. It covers everything from asthma attacks to dealing with broken bones.

This highly useful app is a comprehensive reference on your smartphone that allows patients to search for info on both treatments and medications about different illnesses. When you search for a drug, you’ll get a list of recommended dosing, side effects, and then behavioral restrictions while on the drug. It also helps patients save money due to the tabling feature that breaks down drug prices.

Good Rx has a basic and easy-to-understand premise for all patients: Stop paying more than you have to for your medications and prescriptions. This handy app lets patients efficiently comparison-shop between competing drugs to find the lowest price. Plus, it also features coupons that can save you as much as 80%, even if you already have insurance.

Patients are able to check out their medical history, immunization reports, medications and test results. They’re also able to keep in touch and communicate with their doctor more easily than ever. Plus, managing appointments, uploading and managing personal health and fitness info, and even viewing and then paying off medical bills has never been easier.

FollowMyHealth is effortless to navigate and gives patients the power to control their medical management. You can keep track of your own health summary as well as those of your family and friends. Schedule your appointments, keep tabs on your test results, talk securely and privately with your healthcare providers, manage your prescription renewals, and manage your insurance policies from your smartphone.

Health apps are so versatile that, in the future, you’ll be able to perform physical exams through more and more of them. A great example is Hipposoft’s Physical Exam Essentials. This medical app offers people a detailed and efficient overview of a patient exam with quick-to-review techniques and procedures for 14 unique categories. The app is perfect for both patients and actual doctors—really for anyone who wants an easy-to-understand walkthrough of the exam process:

Step 1 – Choose the physical examination technique from the app’s main title page.

Step 2 – Begin reading the walkthrough of the particular technique you chose. For example, if you chose the cardiovascular exam, you’ll find out how to start with the exam on your patient or yourself.

Step 3 – Look for the signs and symptoms on the patient or yourself that the app is instructing you to for that particular exam process.

Step 4 – Analyze the accompanying images in the app for each exam process, so you know exactly what to look for on your body.

Step 5 – Use the in-app weblinks to search Google, Google Images or Wikipedia for additional explanations and clarifications for a particular term.

Chapter 8: Medical Apps Will Revolutionize Physical Exams


Not long ago, a so-called smartphone physical presentation debuted at TEDMED, which is the health and medicine arm of the famous TED conferences. This was the first step in exploring whether basic parts of performing a traditional, in-person physical—such as a body analysis and a blood pressure reading—could be done on a basic smartphone.


To be sure, the presentation of this app-based physical was nothing yet close to a real, thorough physical exam that a doctor would do in person. However—and here’s the vital part—it came closer than ever before to being a potential stand-in for a traditional physical. The presentation included a/an:

  • Body analysis
  • Blood pressure analysis
  • Pulse measure along with an oxygen saturation reading
  • Visual acuity reading
  • Optic disc visualization
  • Lung function
  • Heart electrophysiology
  • Body sounds reading
  • Carotid artery visualization

One initiative that’s been further developed out of this TEDMED presentation is called Quantified Care. This is a venture originally based on the smartphone-physical-exam concept, which has now branched out into the use of smartphones to empower physicians to better coordinate care with their patients.

Currently, apps are being created to take care of exams relating to all functions of eye, heart, lungs and oral cavity.

Science Daily reports that physician researchers in Hiroshima University in Japan have come up with a computer program that attaches to an electronic stethoscope to organize lung sounds into five diagnostic categories with a high accuracy rate. The researchers plan on eventually developing this breakthrough technology into an app that will live on patients’ smartphones or tablets.

Appropriately dubbed the Respiratory Sounds Visualizer, this soon-to-be-developed app works this way:

Step 1 – Doctors and patients use the stethoscope to listen to lung sounds, which are then automatically transmitted to the app

Step 2 – The app then begins to analyze the various lung sounds it receives and starts to categorize them into one of five groups

Step 3 – The lung sounds are mapped onto a five-sided chart—each axis representing one of the five, common lung sounds—for easy doctor and patient viewing

Step 4 – Doctors and patients can then look at the chart to determine which diagnosis of lung problem is likelier, based on which axis is actually covered in red

Step 5 – Doctors and patients can put on headphones to listen to the recorded lung sounds and view the real-time results right on their smartphones

What makes such an app an absolute gem for doctors is that it helps them overcome one of the most challenging problems they face when it comes to listening to stethoscope sounds. Typically, doctors, especially those working in noisy environments like ERs and out in the field, have to learn how to block out any undesirable background noise to specifically listen to their patients’ lung sounds only. Thanks to this future app, that’s not going to be a problem any longer, since the visual data displayed on the app will let a doctor know what he could have missed.

On the consumer side, this app empowers patients to have more control and management over their chronic conditions, not to mention more independence. Instead of going to their nearest hospital or regularly checking in with their doctors to check their lung function and sounds, patients could use an app like this to monitor their own lung function and sounds. This is useful if the patient has a chronic condition like cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Chapter 9: How Apps Will Help Improve Your Mental State


The branching out of these apps into the mental-health arena may be the catalyst needed to lessen the stigma associated with mental-health issues.

It will also serve a much-needed area of care that currently has a shortage of medical professionals. In addition, mental health is actually the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for folks between the ages of 15 and 44, so more treatment options and resources for mental health-related issues right on your smartphone seems like a godsend.

Take this news from the University of Michigan, where a group of researchers are in the early, testing stages of coming up with an app that’s capable of determining early signs of mood shifts in those with bipolar disorders—all by detecting the subtle characteristics of a person’s voice patterns in normal, everyday phone conversations.

At the University of Dartmouth, professor Andrew Campbell has been tinkering with an app for Android phones called StudentLife, which collected data from students’ smartphones to look for visible signs of loneliness, stress and depression. What made this study different from others is that the professor actually based his research on a regular smartphone that’s widely available to consumers, indicating that your store-bought smartphone can really help analyze and perhaps even improve your mental health.

Remarkably, studies have been performed in which an app isn’t even necessary to help monitor a person’s mental health; just the presence of a smartphone is sufficient. A Northwestern Medicine study tracked people’s behaviors by analyzing their smartphone usage and GPS locations to determine that more time on your phone and less time in various places correlates greatly with being depressed.

What these three case studies illustrate is that smartphones and apps are increasingly part of the mental-health discipline.

Chapter 10: The Drawbacks of Medical Apps


For all this talk of the good that medical apps can do and have done, there’s nonetheless a school of thought that’s not very upbeat on these positive developments.

For one thing, there are all sorts of potential hacking and personal privacy issues with medical apps. According to a review by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, many apps send data without encrypting it, and users and patients just don’t know about it. Imagine all of the personal and sensitive data that people are inputting into their medical apps; that’s a potential powder keg waiting to happen.

The other issue that has some people concerned is the diminished aspect of human touch in the administration of medicine. Since the advent of medical science, it’s always been about the longstanding patient-doctor relationship. These apps are changing and revolting against that unquestioned system.

Some doctors are outright warning against losing the very essence of getting to know patients and how that can cause more harm than good.

No matter how you look at the situation, though, what’s already clear is that these changes to a more tech-oriented and, therefore, independent-patient model are already taking place and have been for a few years.

Medical apps are the future

Thanks to the slew of benefits that apps provide patients, there’s no stopping this shift, as apps slowly but surely take over certain doctors’ jobs and responsibilities. Whether it’s faster care and answers or just general cost savings for the patients, more people are embracing this model of care with enthusiasm.

Surveys show that patients want more empowerment from these apps, but some doctors are still slow or even resistant to coming along with the change.

Even the federal government is making it easier for app designers and developers to create these apps, since they released their final and updated medical-app guidelines last year. It seems that the hurdles to this type of app keep getting resolved, making it easier for ambitious builders to try their hand at development.

When you can essentially do everything from blood tests to physical exams and even very basic mental-health analyses on your smartphone, it’s hard to convincingly argue against this move to more app involvement.

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