Mobile health apps momentum begets momentum

By Tom Sullivan
10:31 AM

Smartphone health applications made great strides this week. The highest-profile of those, perhaps, is the contest-winning multi-lingual EMR app from Polyglot – but that’s not the only one of note.

Take the Withings blood pressure cuff for the iPhone, for instance. This nifty device even garnered FDA approval just this week. The cuff plugs into an iPhone, in which an application measures and records blood pressure, then sends that data either directly to a doctor or to a program such as Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault.

[Q&A: ONC's Mostashari on the innovation electronic data will spark.]

While the FDA has hinted it will be approving more mobile applications, particularly those of a clinical nature, mobile health apps continue to emerge at a feverish pace. Also in the spotlight this week:, an Android app that taps mobile phone data – including location, who a user calls, and when – to predict common colds, depression, even the flu.

As for Polyglot’s Meducation app, which won the ONC-funded SMART (Substitutable Medical Applications, Reusable Technologies) Platform Apps Challenge, the software provides medication instructions in more than a dozen languages.

Developer challenges and contests for health apps are becoming more common. ONC earlier this month funded another developer challenge, the Investing in Innovations (i2) Initaitive, to catalyze health IT innovation.

Federal agencies, such as the DoD’s T2 program, are also releasing mobile health apps, most recently software to help veterans manage PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cool factor aside, mobile health apps hold the potential to put health data into patients' hands in a way never before seen and, in so doing, ultimately bolster population health.

But there's a hitch: People still have to use them and adjust behavior accordingly.