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The rise of health apps

More of these are being developed for smartphone users to help them manage medical conditions, book and change appointments, and learn about diseases

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JOAN CHEW on 12 Jun 2014

The Straits Times

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For many people, the first and last thing they see each day is their mobile phone – and the time spent on this device is set to increase.

 

In South-east Asia, smartphone owners spent an average of more than three hours per day on their screens last year.

 

Singapore, along with Hong Kong, tops Asia-Pacific’s smartphone penetration at 87 per cent, according to a Nielsen report last September.

 

Mobile apps have become an unbeatable way to reach the consumer. First developed for the local market in 2010, there are now more than 20 health-related mobile apps for people to learn about diseases, check clinic locations, book and change appointments, watch videos and even manage specific medical conditions.

 

Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), a subsidiary of the Ministry of Health, develops most of the apps for public health-care institutions here, often in consultation with doctors. It has developed more than 15 apps to date.

 

IHiS’ chief executive officer, Dr Chong Yoke Sin, said the launch of these apps has been driven by Singapore’s ageing population and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases.

 

She said mobile technology “offers viable solutions to care for patients beyond the hospitals walls, at home and in the community; and multiply health-care workers’ ability to reach more patients”.

 

For instance, IHiS helped the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) launch two visual-related apps in February last year. MyEyeDrops was developed for glaucoma sufferers to remind them to apply their eye drops correctly. The centre expanded the app’s features last month to allow corneal transplant patients to do likewise, as well as those with dry eyes to record the frequency and severity of their condition, which they can later show to their doctors.

 

Another app, called MyEyeGym, contains images to allow patients with a type of squint to practise their eye exercises with it. Following patients’ feedback, black-and-white images were added to the app in the last two months, on top of coloured ones.

 

Patients are traditionally given picture cardboards to take home for their eye exercises, but those could get lost.

 

By and large, patients like being able to carry out rehabilitation using an app.

 

A study of 32 patients with intermittent exotropia, where one eye occasionally drifts outwards, found that 20 preferred doing the exercises with an app than with printed images.The condition makes up 47 per cent of all primary types of squints at SNEC.

 

These patients were prescribed exercises on each type of platform for six to eight weeks, said SNEC’s orthoptist Tan Yi Ling. SNEC plans to study how effective this app is in treating the condition.

 

MyEyeGym received an award at the SingHealth Allied Health Innovative Practice Award held in February, which recognises innovation in health care.

 

Another app, which has become bigger and better since its launch in late 2011, is miHealthCare, a one-stop mobile app for information on all public hospitals and polyclinics.

 

Patients can now use the app to make, change or cancel their appointments at all 18 polyclinics nationwide and at specialist outpatient clinics in several health-care institutions.

 

Businessman Lee Chor Leng, 51, used miHealthCare to book an appointment at Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic last Friday morning. He was seen by the doctor within 10 minutes of the appointed time.

 

Previously, he would try to get to the polyclinic early in the morning to beat the crowd and even then, he would still face a long wait.

 

Patients can use the app to view the real-time crowd at polyclinics before deciding whether they want to see a doctor that day.

 

More than 6,000 patients have used this feature of the app since last December to manage their appointments at National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.

 

Meanwhile, at least two other hospitals are working on new mobile apps. The Singapore Sports Medicine Centre and Changi Sports Medicine Centre at Changi General Hospital, along with IHiS, plan to launch SportsMedPal for people with sports injuries later this year.

 

The app will contain physiotherapy exercise prescriptions, rehabilitation exercise videos and pictures and interactive features, including exercise alerts, an exercise and appointment calendar and a function to “reward” the person for sticking to his exercise schedule.

 

The National University Hospital is exploring an app for the next-of-kin of seriously ill patients who come through its emergency department, to update them about the patients’ treatment – for instance, if they have seen the doctor or are waiting for a bed.

 

Mr Leon Luai, director of Unity Denticare, said their latest app, listing the locations of all 17 Unity dental clinics islandwide, comes amid their growing number of clinics and extended operating hours.

 

“Having an app allows people to access updated clinic information and schedule appointments, with just a few touches on their mobile devices,” he said.

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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