We live in a technologically-driven society; however, the acceptance of technology in the health and social care landscape has been slow and poorly acknowledged, largely due to complex health policies and frameworks in place. As highlighted in a recent industry article, technological innovations are driving forward new diagnostics, treatments, techniques, and medical monitoring . Smartphones have become central to our daily lives, and are now used by 66% of adults in the United Kingdom (UK) . Therefore, it appears evident to utilise the technology at the end of our fingertips to transform the way that individuals manage their health, wellbeing and relationships with healthcare professionals and peers.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has now approved over 100 health apps, and in the UK, accredited apps are shown in the NHS Health Apps Library. These apps have undergone rigorous approval processes, contrary to the wealth of apps available on the internet that are widely available. In a recent international systematic review, mobile and tablet apps were considered feasible health interventions ; however, more studies involving larger samples, patient and professional input were deemed necessary, in order to determine the acceptability of apps, and their effectiveness in supporting disease self-management and health outcomes.
Apps and web platforms can help individuals to track their health, by recording symptoms, treatments, and other health-related aspects. However, it is equally important to connect individuals with their peers, as social interactions play an indispensable role in physical and psychological wellbeing. One of the leading platforms that has transformed the way that patients track their health is PatientsLikeMe . The platform enables individuals to monitor their health, interact with other people living with similar conditions, and “donate” their data for research. In practice, patient health data is collected by medical professionals, during consultations, investigations and in-hospital admissions; however, this likely accounts for less than 10% of time. For the remaining 90% of time spent outside of the clinical setting, patients live with their conditions without effective monitoring.
Symptoms are often unpredictable for those living with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs). Therefore, a clinician's understanding of how their patients are responding is based upon on memory recall, with no objective measure available to measure disease severity and quality of life in between follow-up consultations. The long-term aim of apps should therefore meet this demand, by manipulating technology that will improve communication and relationships between patients and healthcare professionals. In turn, this can empower those living with RMDs to become partners in the treatment of their disease, through better quality information and efficient shared decision making.
Aside from helping patients to track and report their symptoms, data is being generated to transform tomorrow's healthcare. The use of innovative technologies has the potential to revolutionise the way that individuals are treated and monitored in the future, as long as patients, carers, healthcare professionals and industry colleagues are involved in the development, evaluation and implementation of such technologies as equal partners.
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Majeed-Ariss R. et al. (2015). Apps and adolescents: a systematic review of adolescents' use of mobile phone and tablet apps that support personal management of their chronic or long-term physical conditions. Journal of Medical Internet Research 17(12): e287.
PatientsLikeMe. (2016). Data for good. Available from: https://www.patientslikeme.com/research/dataforgood[Accessed 31 January 2016]
Disclosure of Interest None declared