A range of new apps are turning our phones into mobile medical clinics.
We start to question what differences these newly established apps could make to the healthcare system around the globe. Will it help solve the issue of rising healthcare costs? Or how about those around the world less fortunate, with minimal access to trained professionals?
Let’s look at one particular app to comprehend how such an idea could possibly be transforming today’s healthcare. HearScreen is a new app that is required to detect hearing loss with just a low-cost smartphone and a pair of headphones.
Hearing loss is being considered an “invisible epidemic”, meaning the condition may already reach critical level before it is diagnosed due to there being no outward symptoms.
With the considerably low number of trained audiologists that are able to go out to very rural and remote areas, it is important that the app can be operated effectively by non-specialists. The results are stored to the cloud where they can be accessed and analysed professionally and if a test diagnoses hearing loss, the app can then refer the patient by text to the closest healthcare facility for follow-up services.
The app works very simply; it turns a mobile phone’s microphone into a calibrated sound level meter. You put the headphones on, and the tester uses the phone to send audio beeps at different volumes to your ears, you then just raise your hand whenever you can hear the sound and the tester records your responses. With the apps ability to screen two ears in less than 60 seconds, its makers claim that it is also six times cheaper than traditional testing equipment.
More and more apps are becoming accessible around the globe, specifically being made to self-diagnose conditions such as hearing loss, as well as impaired vision, diabetes and heart health. With over 250,000 health care apps now available there is of course the question of trust and reliability behind this idea of the ‘pocket doctor’. Despite the benefits of saving money and time, it is important that the apps are constantly being assessed for approval as there is the danger of mis-diagnosis and therefore incorrect self-treatment. HearScreen has won the approval of partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and USAID. However, these organisations are concerned that not all apps have been evaluated in the same way or clinically proven to work effectively and safely, and it is this that will determine the success of these apps in the future.