1 / Picking a Worthy Medical App
Not all health apps are created equal, and some fall short of their promise. Two digital health leaders at Johns Hopkins—Paul Nagy and Alain Labrique— have developed a set of recommendations for medical apps that may be worth downloading. The advice is based on their “four pillars” of a successful health app: scientific validity, robust and secure architecture, continuous monitoring and evaluation (including updates), and user-friendliness.
- An app combined with a wearable component may make it more user-friendly. Wearables such as electronic bracelets or necklaces can generate physiological monitoring data, like active or resting heart rate, and that information can be automatically synced to the cloud.
- When integrated with an electronic medical record, an app can sync data, like medications and upcoming appointments. This greatly reduces the configuration time and manual data entry to the patient.
- Support from family, friends, and other patients can be a major motivator for compliance and adherence to a treatment program or regimen. Look for apps with a social component where others can see your progress and chime in with encouragement.
- Apps that offer direct interaction with your health care provider can provide the best outcomes. Care providers can review wearable and patientlogged data to look for patterns and coach the patient on interventions.
- Don’t rely only on user reviews, even from people who claim to be medical professionals. A five-star rating doesn’t mean the app actually works. Read the fine print to see whether it has FDA approval and underwent clinical validation studies and independent review.
2 / Tracking Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease, a progressive brain disorder, can be difficult to treat effectively because its symptoms, such as tremors and walking difficulties, can vary dramatically over a period of days, or even hours. To address this challenge, Johns Hopkins University computer scientists, working with a team of experts from two other institutions, have developed a mobile app that uses smartphone sensors to generate a score that reliably reflects symptom severity. Dubbed HopkinsPD, the app uses components, such as microphone, touch screen, and accelerometer, to measure five simple tasks involving voice sensing, finger tapping, gait measurement, balance, and reaction time.
3 / See Clearly Now
The ClearMask, designed by a team at Johns Hopkins, is a transparent surgical mask that blocks germs and fluids—without blocking faces. Its creators envision ClearMask helping patients with limited English skills or other communication barriers, and anxious children, more effectively interact with doctors. After all, 55 percent of human communication is based on nonverbal cues, including facial expressions. The team submitted a final design for FDA approval in August and will put the product through clinical trials in early 2019.
4 / Tricked-out Walker
Critically ill children in pediatric intensive care units are often discouraged from moving around to mitigate risks, such as tripping. But any activity, even short walks, has been proved to aid in recovery. A biomedical engineering student team at Johns Hopkins is developing a walker, called AmbuMate, to make it easier to transport the multiple medical devices hooked to the patient. Designed for both patient and caregiver, AmbuMate features support rails for patient fatigue, and wire and tube management to reduce setup time and not trip anyone up as they navigate the PICU.
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