Patients will undoubtedly benefit from mobile health (mHealth) applications and devices in a hospital or clinic setting, but can they help to prevent us from needing to go there in the first place?
One effort to keep people healthy and active can be seen in the recently announced Angry Birds-themed activity parks. Rovio, maker of the popular avian puzzle game, said they plan to construct adventure playgrounds that interact with a player’s mobile device, giving them rewards in exchange for exercising or completing tasks at the parks.
“We will increase the amount of exercise people do by making it fun. That is the Rovio way, to make things fun. Playing games is a very human thing to do – that’s how humans learn – and we can make exercising into a game,” said Peter Vesterback, the game’s creator.
Another fitness monitoring game that utilizes mHealth is the Nike+ FuelBand, which measures “all the activities of your athletic life”. The band monitors steps taken and calories burned, then awards Nike Fuel Points based on the amount of activity performed. This allows users to track their progress, compete with friends, and unlock awards. It’s possible Nike could further encourage users’ activity by offering promotional deals and products to those who earn enough points.
Some mHealth apps take the desire for preventative care one step farther than simply monitoring exercise. In December, the FDA approved the first glucose meter for iPhone. The combination device and app called iBGStar allows diabetes patients to test, monitor, and track their blood glucose levels. Device maker Sanofi Aventis explained how iBGStar will improve the level of diabetes care.
“Using the technology built into your iPhone or iPod touch, you can share this information with your healthcare professional while on-the-go, to help you make better-informed diabetes-related decisions together,” a statement on the company’s website said.
Chemotherapy patients can also look to mHealth for help in dealing with their cancer treatment outside the confines of a doctor’s office. Merck’s iChemoDiary, which is available in the App Store, records a patient’s therapy schedule, treatments, and symptoms. This can give the oncologist and patients a more comprehensive, day-to-day view of the treatment process.
Another recent study published in the February edition of the Journal of Medical Toxicology looks to fuse physiological and behavioral data collected through a mHealth platform in an attempt to proactively ward off the potential relapse of drug addicts in a recovery program.
Led by Edward Boyer, a team of University of Massachusetts researchers studied a group of veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and had a history of drug abuse. The system they developed, named iHeal, attempts to detect drug cravings and risky behavior in drug addicts who are using it. In the study, subjects wore a sensor band that detects electrochemical activity, body motion, and skin temperature. The iHeal software also asked users to self-report levels of stress, drug craving, and activity.
The study concluded that further laboratory testing surrounding the physiological cues for drug craving must be performed along improved sensor band design for iHeal to reach its full potential for relapse prevention.