Easy to use health apps are starting to change health interactions for patients, says Noel Wicks

I remember the very first day I got into the “mobile” world. It was 1997 and I was in my second year at the University of Bradford.

At the time I was doing a six-month pre-reg placement while also being on the executive of the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association. With these heady responsibilities I felt needed to be contactable 24 hours a day and so with my first pre-reg pay packet I purchased a Motorola pager. 

For anyone qualifying as a pharmacist after about 2005, a pager was a small device (worn on the belt if you were cool) that displayed a number message sent from a phone by someone else. This would usually be the phone number of the person who called you or occasionally your friends who had worked out how to spell a rude word using numbers.

There were other students, usually one or two years older, who had mobile phones (probably Ericcson or Nokia), but I could only aspire to those dizzy heights. I had my trusty pager and I would frequently look at it while browsing in a bookshop, or in a store picking up a CD album or choosing a DVD film to rent.

Wind the clock forward less than two decades and technology now allows me to browse, buy and store that book, CD and film all from a 5” screen in the palm of my hand. This is just as well, because there aren’t many shops left that sell these sorts of items.

I wonder if back in the 90’s when people starting buying mobile phones whether companies like WHSmith, HMV and Blockbuster could see the influence that these devices would have on their businesses. I’m guessing not, judging by what’s happened to some of these high street names. I suppose then we should thank our lucky starts that you can’t digitise a trip to a pharmacy to collect a tablet or have a doctor’s examination.

Or can you? I don’t know if you’ve had a browse through the health-related apps that are available on your mobile phone lately, but you might be surprised at what’s out there. There are quite few that help with things like prescription ordering, medicines compliance, condition specific management as well as ones used to improve people’s health.

However, the recent plethora of mobile device accessories that monitor various bits of your health (such as BP, pulse, movement or sleep patterns) have meant a whole new world of measuring and testing. This has led to apps that utilise data and provide feedback direct to the individual in real time. In turn, this has led to further apps that can utilise this information, not only for advice, but also for diagnostic purposes.

One such app is called Babylon Health. This app allows you to ask a real GP a question, send them an image or data from a personal monitoring device and receive a response within minutes, if not seconds.

The app can make you an appointment and have you in front of a doctor (either physically or virtually) in minutes.

It can also keep and allow you access to your clinical records instantly from anywhere in the world. So, while we haven’t invented virtual medicines quite yet, I still think we need to keep an eye on the mobile future and the development of these sorts of applications. After all, we wouldn’t want pharmacy to go the way of Blockbusters would we?

Noel Wicks is an independent pharmacist

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