Virtual House Calls And Pocket Therapists: How Mobile Devices Are Transforming Healthcare

Oct 8, 2015

From capturing video of a sick kid’s inner ear to monitoring glucose, smart phones are giving doctors and patients a new ways to diagnose illnesses, improve health and cut costs. The website Mobile Health: Apps for Every Age and Ouch, explores the advantages and issues of using medical apps.

This interactive project was produced by Lynne Shallcross at the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and gives a visual overview of ten apps that are changing doctors’ and patients’ relationship and the way we take care of ourselves.  But despite these technological advancements, many physicians are slow to adopt the new tools and insurance companies don’t know exactly how to bill for these new services. And many health care apps aren’t backed by scientific data, which could put some users at risk for inadequate or incorrect health information. Still, Eric Topol, a cardiologist and the author of The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands says: 

“This represents the emancipation of patients. Wherever there's a mobile signal, there's a potential for better health care.”

Here’s a quick list of the 10 apps Shallcross explores on Mobile Health: 

CellScope: Gone are the days of doctors showing up on your front-door step with a stethoscope, thermometer and otoscope in hand. Now, for about $80, you can buy your own otoscope and attach it a smartphone. It records video from inside the ear of a sick kid and images can be sent to a physician for diagnosis 

NFL Play 60: This is the opposite of the sedentary video games. The American Heart Association app gives users rewards for running, jumping and other physical activities. It hopes to motivate kids to be physically active.


Smash Your Food: Sugar. Fat. Oil. Do you know how much of these your hamburger, milkshake or French Fries contain? With quizzes and visuals, the app breaks down the nutritional values of food and tries to steer users to eating more healthful foods like fruits and veggies.  

Doctor On Demand: A virtual house call service with an on-demand physician who can talk you through a medical issue or connect with a psychologist for a therapy session. It costs $40 for a medical e-visit and $50 for a 25-minute session with a therapist. 

Ginger.io: It’s the psychiatrist’s couch of the mobile world. Ginger.io monitors your activity and interactions through your mobile device. It helps monitor depression through questions and changes in activity and sends reminders to help users get through rough patches. 

First Aid: From asthma attacks to broken bones, the American Red Cross walks users through different emergency scenarios. 

MyFitnessPal: Tracks your nutritional and caloric intake, as well as physical activity to help users lose weight. You can scan barcodes of packaged foods to easily calculate calories. It also lets you network with friends to help motivate and keep you on track. 

Glooko: An insulin management app that syncs insulin levels and food intake onto your mobile. It graphs the data, so users can find anomalies, which could potentially help the management of diabetes. 

AliveCor Heart Monitor: A mobile electrocardiogram that costs about $75 and attaches to a smartphone. It helps patients monitor irregular heartbeats without having to wait for a doctor’s appointment.

Propeller Health: Sufferers of asthma or COPD, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can purchase a device to use with their inhalers to monitor how often a user takes medication and monitors possible triggers for an attack. 

MediSafe: Have a cupboard full of pills that you have to take at different times? MediSafe is a virtual pillbox that reminds you when you need to take a dose to keep patients on track.

For exploring similar apps, you may want to check out, iMedicalApps, an app review site edited by physicians and other health professionals.