Mobile apps could be the key to managing chronic conditions

Feb 19, 2022
There are currently a plethora of health apps that can assist users in tracking everything from calorie intake to exercise duration all the way through to blood pressure and heart rhythm. Source: Getty Images.

Mobile phone applications are a great tool for entertainment and engagement with popular games such as Wordle, music streaming service Spotify, or the audiobook library Audible providing hours of amusement. A number of apps can also provide the invaluable ability to organise the users day and stay on top of tasks. In this day and age, if there is a need to be met, there is more than likely an app to help address it.

For instance, there are multiple mobile apps on the market that can help users proactively manage their health.  There are currently a plethora of health apps that can assist users in tracking everything from calorie intake to exercise duration all the way through to blood pressure and heart rhythm. However,  the latest findings from the National Poll on Healthy Ageing suggest that less than half of respondents “between 50 and 80 years have ever used a health-related app on their smartphone, wearable device or tablet.”

The poll’s director Preeti Malani, M.D., an infectious disease physician with training in geriatrics at Michigan Medicine said “health providers should consider discussing the use of health apps with their patients because one-third said they had never thought about using one.”

“People who describe their health as fair or poor, the people who might be most in need of the kind of tracking, support and information a good health app can give, were significantly less likely to use such apps than those who say they’re in excellent, very good or good health,” she said.

As you age you may experience a growing number of health ailments, therefore it is crucial that those over 60 take an active approach to managing their health, and keeping on top of any chronic health conditions that may be present.  Starts at 60 has asked the experts to determine the benefits that health apps can provide for users and the changes that could be implemented to increase the appeal and use of these apps.

Prevention is better than cure

older person using fitness watch.
Mobile health apps can act as a constant monitor of a patients condition and health status. Source: Getty Images.

A major principle of modern health care is the adage that “prevention is better than cure” and when it comes to health apps the experts seem to agree that the ability to stay on top of chronic health conditions can help prevent the need for more serious intervention in the future.

Medical expert Dr Vivek Eranki believes “if you manage the chronic conditions earlier and if you reduce the footprint of the chronic conditions then it’s not going to evolve into something that needs acute medical care.”

“If used properly it (health apps) gives patients and their general practitioners a running update as to how things are progressing,” he said.

Eranki also highlighted that “health apps are coming in handy” by acting as a constant monitor of a patients condition and health status that could possibly go unnoticed during a check-up.

“Sometimes when it comes to heart problems you’re looking for any changes in the heart rhythm and those changes may not happen when they are at the doctor’s office. So when they do an ECG that might come up normal, that doesn’t mean they don’t have any underlying heart problems,” he said.

The apps may also act as somewhat of an early warning system with Eranki suggesting, “if something adverse were to show up and they [patients] were to go to the doctor’s office then a more invasive test can be done which may not be facilitated if you don’t have this information at your fingertips.”

GP and Founder of preventative medical service Osana, Dr Kevin Cheng shares the sentiments of Dr Eranki when it comes to the preventative effects of regular health app use when managing chronic health conditions.

“For apps that manage chronic conditions, it keeps health risks in check and reduces the risk of flare-ups and hospital admission,” he said.

“Measuring chronic conditions over time is critical to avoiding flare-ups, unnecessary trips to specialists or hospitals and long-term medication.

“Apps can keep track of indicators such as weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar, oxygen level, pain, sleep, function at home and stress levels. Apps can also alert when these indicators are outside of normal range, or when health activities are due, such as blood tests or cancer screening.”

Making health apps ‘app-ealing’ for the over 60

Woman using blood pressure monitor.
Although health apps can provide considerable benefits there is a problem present with marketing to over 60s. Source: Getty Images.

As the National Poll on Healthy Ageing highlighted those in the over 60 age bracket are less likely to use a health app when managing a chronic condition or general health.

Managing Director of Miroma Project Factory (MPF), a specialist digital development group that works extensively in the field of creating bespoke custom software in the health, wellbeing and medical space, Katherine Robinson said despite the slow uptake, when it comes to the benefits of health apps there are “far too many to list.”

“Retaining good health includes diet, exercise, and rest and we’re more likely to have chronic conditions that make managing and improving this even more important. We want to keep our brains in good condition as well as our bodies, so brain training apps are also popular,” she said.

However, Robinson conceded that although health apps can provide considerable benefits there is a problem present with marketing to over 60s.

“Some of the key things that stop people over 60 taking up health apps are related to how these are marketed. There is an assumption that the over 60 market is not interested, not relevant or not a key market to address,” she said.

“It’s easy to assume that if the marketing of your app appeals to people 35-50, that it will automatically appeal to those of 60. While there is unlikely to be separate marketing required, and images of people over 55 will definitely be seen as tokenistic (and not reflecting our images of ourselves), ensuring the language, images, expected benefits and approach of the app are inclusive of those over 60, can definitely make a difference.

“Finally, clear benefits, what outcomes should be expected and why the app is of value will all help.”

Some health apps that could prove useful for the over 60 when managing health include: 

iCare Health Monitor

Available for both iOS and Android, the iCare Health Monitor can measure your blood pressure, oxygenation levels, heart rate, and lung capacity.

Pillboxie

Pillboxie provides an easy reminder for you to take your medication. Trusted by many, it allows you to visually manage your meds on screen.

iBP Blood Pressure

iBP Blood Pressure tracks and analyses your blood pressure. The app uses simple colour icons to indicate blood pressure values and provides the user to self monitor their blood pressure levels.

MyFitness Pal

MyFitness Pal tracks diet and exercise and can also be used to monitor calorie intake. You can also find the nutrients of the food you’re eating by scanning the barcode on food packaging.

 

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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