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Times of India
07 May 2013
New Delhi, India

Even as there are reports of apps attacking data on smartphones and siphoning them off, there is the other side of the matter — they can also save lives and increase health awareness.

When Dr Keerti Tewari, a bureaucrat, got breast cancer in 2007, she fumbled through mind-boggling information on the internet for guidance. Today, she’s a survivor who has given inputs for a breast cancer app. She says, “If there was an app in 2007, it would have saved me a lot of anxiety.”

As more people opt for mobiles, the world is on the cusp of a medical revolution. Companies are making medical apps to analyse urine, measure sleep patterns, diagnose ear infections, see glucose levels and even do ultrasounds.

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Already, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the US will be short of 90,000 doctors by 2020. India too has a steep doctor/patient ratio and lack of infrastructure in healthcare. “This divide can be bridged,” says Dr Ruchi Dass, founder and CEO of HealthCursor Consulting Group, “by mobile-based tools. The market for mobile medical apps globally is around $1.3 billion and will reach $26 billion by 2017. In India, while healthcare apps are a small portion of the mobile apps market which was $150 million in 2012 and climbing at 22.6% annually, they’ll grow.”

The US is already making Electronic Medical Records (EMR) mandatory, says Arun Kumar Cheela, director of Hyderabad-based Switch, an apps company. “EMR will help customize clinical notes and allow for paperless billing, access to patient charts and ePrescribing. The US government gives subsidies to hospitals to make medical records online. India should think along these lines too,” he says.

No wonder half of Switch’s portfolio is health apps. One is Epartogram which is used in rural areas by midwives and birth attendants. Along with alerts, it helps store data for future reference.

Hospitals are using apps to disseminate information. In February, Bangalore-based HCG introduced a breast cancer app which told consumers how to do self-examination. Dr B S Ajaikumar, chairman, HCG Group, says, “Already, 430 people have downloaded it. Within a year, we will start colon, head and neck and prostate cancer apps too.”

In Mumbai, Myshkin Ingawale, co-founder of Biosense Technologies, has developed an app to analyze urine. It got noticed at the TED (Technology, Education and Design) 2013 conference in Los Angeles in February. Here, consumers dip a test strip into urine which is put on a mat and photographed with the mobile. This is then compared with a colour-coded map and the resulting prognosis shows levels of glucose, bilirubin, ketones and leukocytes. “It has been tested at IIT-Mumbai and we are releasing this app this month for iPhones,” says Ingawale.

However, some doctors are against using apps for diagnosis. Dr Anoop Misra, director, Centre of Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, says, “Apps give you a direction, but it's more reliable to go to a doctor or a lab.” Many also use it to keep abreast of latest medical advances.

Will a time come when hospitals will become paperless?

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