The Harvard Health Blog

Smartphones, medical apps, and remote monitoring: Top 10 health stories of 2010

Smartphones and tablet computers are making it easier to get health care information, advice, and reminders on an anywhere-and-anytime basis. Hundreds of health and medical apps for smartphones like the iPhone became available this year. Some are just for fun. Others provide useful information (calorie counters, first aid and CPR instructions) or perform calculations. Even the federal government is getting into the act: the app store it opened this summer has several free health-related apps, including one called My Dietary Supplements for keeping track of vitamins and supplements and another one from the Environmental Protection Agency that allows you to check the UV index and air quality wherever you are. Smartphones are also being used with at-home monitoring devices; for example, glucose meters have been developed thatsend blood sugar readings wirelessly to an app on a smartphone. The number of doctors using apps and mobile devices is increasing, a trend that is likely to accelerate as electronic health records become more common. Check out iMedicalapps if you want to see the apps your doctor might be using or talking about. It has become a popular Web site for commentary and critiques of medical apps for doctors and medical students. Meanwhile, the FDA is wrestling with the issue of how tightly it should regulate medical apps. Some adverse events resulting from programming errors have been reported to the agency. Medical apps are part of a larger "e-health" trend toward delivering health care reminders and advice remotely with the help of computers and phones of all types. These phone services are being used in combination with increasingly sophisticated at-home monitoring devices. Research results have been mixed. Simple, low-cost text messages have been shown to be effective in getting people wear sunscreen. But one study published this year found that regular telephone contact and at-home monitoring of heart failure patients had no effect on hospitalizations of death from any cause over a six-month period. Another study found that remote monitoring did lower hospital readmission rates among heart failure patients, although the difference between remote monitoring and regular care didn't reach statistical significance.

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