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Useful (or Interesting) Applications

June 2014

By Tom Stibolt, MD, Mobile Musings Column Editor

I have heard about several new applications that are potentially useful to our patients or simply interesting.

The most useful for patients is a recently updated asthma application called AsthmaMD. It was developed by a pediatrician who is a clinical faculty member at the University of California, San Francisco. The application allows its users to easily and quickly log their asthma activity, medications, and contributing factors to their asthma, all in the form of a diary. Users may share the diary and a color graph chart of their asthma activity with their physicians to be included in their medical records. The latter capability may be limited for most electronic medical records.

An interesting feature of AsthmaMD is that it allows the user to opt in to the gathering of anonymous asthma data to help researchers by providing information into the causes and external correlation of asthma. The application can securely send encrypted and anonymous data, such as the severity of asthma attacks, triggers, time, date and location to a database managed by Google. This may give researchers data to find correlations between higher asthma rates in one specific vicinity, time and date, pollutant and climate. The author of the application hopes it will have a great impact in advancing asthma research.

The application is free, works only on iOS devices, and can be coupled with a $19.99 peak flow meter available from several pharmacies and through Amazon. The application includes a video education module which allows users to reference instructions on using the peak flow meter. More information can be found at asthmamd.org.

The second interesting application for computers or mobile devices is intended to help patients better plan for doctor appointments, ask questions during their visit and follow up on orders afterward. This app was created by the nonprofit Health Collaborative of Greater Columbus (Ohio) although they have spun off a for-profit company to market the app. The app is free and will have no ads, but can’t be opened without a PIN code supplied by sponsors such as insurers, hospital systems or employers. The rationale for the app is based on a study in the journal Health Affairs which found that patients with lower engagement levels spend 21 percent more on health care than those actively asking questions and following up. The app also parallels the nonprofit’s work with Consumer Reports on asking the right questions in health care.

The app is being piloted it in the Central Ohio region, but will have national reach in the next several months. The developer expects that health plans and hospitals will pay for the tool. They apparently already have interest from groups across the country.

More information is available at duethealth.com.

The final application is not patient or physician related but sounds intriguing. It is called 20 Day stranger and allows a user to share experiences with an anonymous stranger for 20 days. The social experiment keeps the identities of both parties secret, but reveals where they go and what they do. At the end of the experiment, participants can send one message to each other.

It is only available for the iPhone and uses the phone’s sensors to collect information on movements. It then uses online services to create a virtual version of the world one user moves through, and shows it to the other user. If a user is walking, the app will tell the partner, and then will accompany it with Google Street View data pulled from a half-mile radius. It is hoped that the application will allow connection to strangers in a way that produces empathy instead of suspicion, contempt, or disdain.

The app was developed by MIT Media Lab’s Playful Systems research group, which developed the app along with MIT’s Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values. More information is available at 20daystranger.com.

Last Reviewed: September 2017