Many tech entrepreneurs complain about the difficulty of finding a problem to solve with an app. The best and most sustainable apps are always the ones that provide solutions to problems people face in their day-to-day experiences.
Healthcare app development is at the beginning of its golden age. This is the best time to get in. There are so many areas in the healthcare industry that can benefit from apps.
In this article, I will discuss some of the biggest challenges plaguing our healthcare system and you can build apps to address them.
What are the top healthcare problems that can be solved with apps?
A recent study claims that between 40,000 and 80,000 deaths each year in the US are caused by misdiagnosis. Doctors are directly responsible for their deaths. No doctor intends to kill his or her patients. If you’re a patient, you may begin to doubt your physician. We obviously don’t like to think of doctors as killers. At the foundation of every patient-doctor relationship is trust.
Patients trust their physicians to conclusively determine what is making them sick and provide the appropriate remedy. Doubts about the doctor’s capability to perform his or her responsibilities accurately erode trust. Patients shouldn’t have to worry about determining the proficiency of their physicians. Spending 30 minutes googling is no way to judge how well a 10-18 year medical training turned out.
Statistics like the one above certainly don’t make it any easier. There is only one way to solve this problem forever, and that is to bring those numbers down to zero.
What technological solutions exist to help doctors diagnose more accurately?
Unlike a physician in a typical clinical setting, software powered by artificial intelligence has access to and can process billions of patient data points both from current and previous visits. By comparing this information with data from different sources like labs, past cases, journals, and other records, AI can identify patterns to suggest the presence of specific diseases and conditions. This would drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to conduct a differential diagnosis to come up with a final diagnosis.
AI cannot substitute trained physicians. It only aids physicians to make better-informed decisions. By utilizing big data analytics in the diagnosis process, the probability of making a wrong diagnosis is greatly diminished.
AI can also be integrated into diagnostic tools such as imaging. An example of this is Facebook’s recent project with NYUwhere AI was used to create fast MRIs, reducing the time it takes to perform an MRI by 50%.
Symptom trackers are another way to help clinicians access as much information about their patients as possible. The biggest challenge during a consultation is getting an accurate patient history.
By the time patients go to the clinic, they usually can’t remember each and every symptom they experienced. The physician has to be skilled enough to conduct a thorough interview to extract as much information as possible.
A diagnosis can be swayed in a totally different direction even by just a single omission in patient history. Unfortunately, this is more common than we’d like to admit.
Symptom trackers like Smarter Symptom Tracker reduce this risk by bringing patients on board. They can encode symptoms in real-time and their physicians can access an accurate record of their history on each. If the patient is faithful in recording the data, a 100 percent accurate history is attainable.
Tools like Apple’s HealthKit and Google Fit have made it possible to integrate biomarker tracking in everyday life.
Limited access to advanced clinician training
Each year, thousands of students graduate from medical school in the US. They, together with thousands of other doctors from foreign medical schools, compete for the limited slots in residency training programs across the country. It is not uncommon for some to wait for several years before being accepted into a training program. Some never get admitted at all.
Residency positions are limited by law. The reason for this is funding. This creates an artificial shortage of certain skill sets and directly impacts the delivery of healthcare services.
While technology can never replace a rigorous hospital training program, it can help to lower the cost of delivering such training and pave the way for hospitals to admit more residents even with their limited resources.
What are some of the tools we can use to reduce the cost of training?
Studies have been conducted that show that virtual reality can be reliably deployed to train physicians for specific procedures. With VR, a consultant doesn’t have to be in the same location as the resident or intern.
One challenge caused by the limited number of specialist physicians is the reduced number of trainers. With VR, this barrier can be crossed. Physicians in different locations can provide the same level of training to students far and wide.
VR, when combined with augmented reality, can be a powerful tool to create compelling training experiences.
Early-stage disease detection
Diseases such as cancer, as well as events such as aneurysms and strokes often catch doctors by surprise. It’s often too late to do much and a lot of patients lose their lives not because they cannot be saved but because it’s too late to save them.
Sitting is the new smoking, and lifestyle diseases are on the increase. Cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and kidney disease are all lifestyle diseases. They’re triggered by factors that include sedentary lifestyle habits, bad food choices and lack of exercise.
We know the risk factors well but disease detection is often too late.
What are the possible solutions to this problem?
The technology to intervene already exists. Take this story for instance. A woman was on holiday at the World of Illusions in Edinburgh in May of 2019. When she took a photograph at a tourist attraction with a thermal imaging camera, she noticed her photo showed a yellow-colored hotspot on her left breast.
She went to see her doctor upon returning to Berkshire and it was confirmed that she had early-stage breast cancer. She was put on treatment and has since recovered.
This was an accidental early-stage detection. She had no signs or symptoms but was walking around with a potentially lethal disease. Had the detection been late, she could have lost either her breast or her life.
Thermal camera add-ons for smartphones combined with medical imaging apps can be used to create a breast cancer scanner. When integrated with AI, you can extend the possibilities.
Biotrackers on wearables like the Apple Watch and Fitbit can be used to create a patient profile that can be fed into an AI-powered app that analyses this data for specific risk factors.
Sleep patterns, wake and activity patterns, blood pressure, nutrition markers and more can all be used to create an early detection system for specific health conditions. When a risk is detected, a notification can be sent to both the patient and their physician for further testing to be conducted.
Disease early detection is the concept behind Apple’s move to include an ECG in the Apple Watch Series 5. We’ve written about what bio-trackers can be tracked with wearables in a previous article. You may read it here.
This is a prime area for the implementation of telehealth technology. Instead of waiting to schedule an in-person meeting with your physician, you can have an e-consultation. If there is still a need for an in-person appointment, you can easily have that scheduled thereafter.
This would bring healthcare services within reach. Concerns can be addressed quickly and debilitating consequences avoided.
Opioid Overdose Crisis
The opioid crisis is the biggest medical scandal in the US in centuries. Millions of people are addicted to pain medication and the CDC estimates that 130 people die every day due to opioid drug overdose. That’s 1 person every 11 minutes, every day. This costs the American economy a whopping $78.5 billion each year in medical services, lost productivity, law enforcement and legal services.
The fundamental problem is that healthcare institutions and practitioners are failing to keep track of who’s getting the medicines, how much they are taking and where they are getting them from.
How can we solve this problem?
Digitizing the drug prescription process is one sure way of ensuring end-to-end monitoring and effective law enforcement. Paper prescriptions make it very easy for anyone to claim a lost prescription and request a new one for a refill.
Physicians have too much on their plate to track each and every patient and how they comply with drug therapy. But software doesn’t have this problem. By using APIs like TruePill, healthcare institutions can become more accountable and track exactly who got which medications and when.
Notifications can be generated to remind patients to drink their medication. Once a medication has been taken, the patient must make a note in the app. Sometimes patients overdose because they forget that they’ve already taken their dose for the day and end up drinking more than they need to. Not all overdoses are due to addiction.
For this system to be truly effective, data has to be shared across a centralized healthcare network. Today, healthcare systems are siloed. This is to protect the financial interests of health institutions but too often at the expense of patients.
Alarms can be built into the system to flag physicians who overprescribe medications for certain patients. Also, by adding AI to the mix to interpret past medical records, apps can warn physicians about a patient who is a potential drug abuser.
I know the PC police might find these measures too drastic but there are ways to ensure privacy is not compromised. A crisis such as this one calls for unprecedented measures to stop the chaos.
The first steps have been taken to address this problem as we have seen from record legal settlements such as the recent one in Ohio. The efforts should go beyond that and everything must be done to prevent this from ever happening again.
Cost of Healthcare Services
The Emergency Room has turned into an outpatient facility. This is not sustainable. Too many people can’t afford basic healthcare and are turning to the ER for basic checkups.
It’s not easy to turn people away just because their case is not an emergency. Health professionals have sworn to provide care, not shun people from it. It behooves every committed healthcare professional to seek out solutions for this often unpublished problem.
So what’s behind this phenomenon? Rising healthcare costs. It is well known that the US has some of the most expensive healthcare services the world over. Being uninsured is just as good as being barred from getting access to proper healthcare services.
The system is designed to benefit insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations, and healthcare service networks. Patients are the least beneficiaries in the pyramid and yet the ones upon whom the whole industry is built.
Surely there must be ways to stop this escalation. And indeed there are!
Many health tech startups are exploring the widespread use of telehealth technology to deliver healthcare services to less privileged communities locally and abroad.
One such firm is Vsee. Using secure video chat and end-to-end encrypted chat, they are able to deliver complete e-consultation services to people in the comfort of their homes or offices.
Services such as telehealth commoditize healthcare services to a point where anyone can take out a credit card and pay for a much-needed consultation. The distance barrier is limited and they can access doctors beyond state borders. It is a form of Uber for healthcare.
As the population ages, the demands on the healthcare system will increase. In the face of a looming shortage of physicians predicted to hit by 2032, it’s technologies like telehealth that are helping to cushion the effect of this lack.
How safe is telehealth?
Data security is a big concern today. It’s understandable when patients worry whether their information is going to be stolen or shared with the government. But the opposite is true. Telehealth is as safe as being physically in the hospital.
Encryption tools such as Virgil Security’s SDK make it impossible for app owners and network owners to access any of the data between exchanged between the patient and their physician. The communication is private and cannot be intercepted.
Telehealth to treat lifestyle diseases
Most hospital visits are due to lifestyle diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes and similar. These can be monitored with telehealth and patients can easily comply with a doctor’s instructions without going to the hospital. Patients can save travel costs and time by using telehealth for non-critical checkups.
By integrating HealthKit and Google Fit in a telehealth app, instructions for exercise, sleeping patterns and nutrition can be encoded and the app can track the patient’s compliance and send a regular report to the physician.
Coupled with wearable bio-trackers and e-prescription technology, telehealth promises to bring immense progress in healthcare service delivery. We’ve written an extensive article on telehealth here. Please spare some time to read it. You will learn a lot from it.
The healthcare problems we face today present themselves as opportunities to create stable businesses for the visionary entrepreneur. Do you want to solve any of the medical challenges we’ve discussed by building your own health app?
We’ve worked with many health care professionals to create cutting edge mhealth apps that are saving lives in the real world today. Smarter Symptom Tracker, Quartz Clinical and are just some of the many we have built.
Do you have an app idea and need help making it a reality? Talk to us. Click here to send us a message right away.