According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health.” Part of this process involves access to credible medical information, but determining what is or is not credible is not straightforward.
This review is the first of two that focus on apps designed in Canada for Canadians. The growth of mobile health apps provides an exciting opportunity to support healthy behaviour changes that take advantage of digital technology. The vast majority of health and wellness apps on the market, however, are made by large private companies, usually targeted to the U.S. or international market. Although these may still provide benefit to Canadians, there are often factors that don’t quite fit a Canadian context. This review and the next are all-Canadian efforts to promote healthy behaviours. Among those reviewed, Carrot Rewards is especially promising as it integrates with popular fitness trackers to offer Canadians tangible rewards for improving their health.
As Ontario’s population ages, the incidence of atrial fibrillation increases. We know that atrial fibrillation can be intermittent or asymptomatic. We also know that diagnosed or undiagnosed atrial fibrillation without proper stratification can lead to stroke. If physicians were able to identify these patients earlier and more efficiently, there could be a significant impact on the prevention of disability or death due to stroke. As smartphones are now ubiquitous and the use of mobile apps for health management is growing, it’s worth taking a look at whether apps can contribute to aFib management.
Asthma is the most common chronic condition affecting children and the most common reason children are hospitalized. It is estimated that more than 15% of Canadian children have been diagnosed with asthma, nearly double the number of adults with the disease. Treatment guidelines emphasize that the critical first step in asthma management is self-management education. Children are highly unlikely to be motivated to self-monitor and manage their symptoms unless the right incentives are involved.
Chronic pain is a complex experience, with multiple causes, huge variations in symptoms and many factors and treatment modalities that may better, worsen or not affect the pain at all. This can make monitoring and reducing pain quite challenging [1, 2].
The apps reviewed excelled in different ways: Manage My Pain and Chronic Pain Tracker feature strong reporting functions that reflect the complexity of chronic pain and communicate to physicians in an effective way. Pain Coach provides information and techniques to support self-management, while CatchMyPain has a strong online support community. Thus, each might help different patients in different ways.
Smartphone apps have great potential to improve patient care for asthma, a dynamic disease that can require treatment modification between visits, sometimes urgently. Asthma education, self-monitoring and self-management are very important for effective treatment. Apps have the potential to help by providing asthma education between physician visits, by allowing patients to more easily self-monitor their condition and by helping patients self-manage medications in response to their symptoms.
As clinicians, we have all had the experience of walking into an exam room when the only note on the chart reads “women’s issue”. Menstrual histories are notoriously filled with inaccuracy and are challenging for the patient and physician to gather. Wouldn’t it be great if our patient could easily and accurately track her periods? And she happened to have this data with her? Enter the era of smartphone menstrual tracking apps.
Bloating, cramping, gurgling, farting, diarrhea and constipation: these are some of the many symptoms we hear about from patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It’s overwhelming when patients come in and dump – if you’ll pardon the term – all of their dietary permutations, probiotic choices and descriptions of their stools all at once. Many apps are available that offer to help patients document their IBS symptoms and, by extension, help the physician sort through them. These apps can help with the diagnosis of IBS as well as monitor treatment responses. Not all apps, however, are created equal.
Quitting smoking is really tough. As physicians, we know that encouraging and supporting smoking cessation is one of the most important things we can do to impact the health of the ~18% of Canadians who smoke. But as with all addictions, the quitting process can be frustrating for patients and providers alike.
Alcohol is one of the most used and abused legal substances in the world. I’m sure that we all know friends or family members who have had problems with alcohol use at some point in their lives. Treatments for alcohol use have traditionally rested on abstinence-based modalities, such as “detox” centres and 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.