Jul 21, 2019 | Updated: 09:46 AM EDT

The App: The Next Big Medical Breakthrough?

Jul 09, 2019 07:30 PM EDT

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The App: The Next Big Medical Breakthrough?
(Photo : Marek Levak)

Smartphones have been with us for only a little more than a decade and they have almost become universal. There are currently around 3 billion of them, used for anything from communication to entertainment.

Smartphones are everywhere - they are on every continent and in every country (with the possible exception of North Korea but there, too, must be at least a few), connected to cellular networks and WiFi - and all of them run apps that do various useful things - or simply help us kill time. And more recently, a series of apps and services have emerged that no longer just keep us in touch with our friends, updated on the latest news and distracted on our commutes. Some apps on smartphones help detect depression, others keep our mind clear, help us relax or stay active, and some even detect some of our health issues - with the help of various bands and smartwatches, of course. All this brings smartphone apps closer to becoming a truly helpful adjuvant in keeping us healthy in the long run.

A Versatile Medium

As the example of so many social networks and chat apps has shown us, smartphones are great for keeping in touch with others. People use them to set dates and tell jokes, share memes and make plans, to reach out to friends and family members half a world away - in short, to communicate by voice and text. From this point of view, smartphones have become the most versatile - and the most-used - medium through which we communicate today. And by doing so, they have also become the greatest way to seek help.

Some of the apps provide their users with helpful tips on how to handle various conditions - like the "PTSD Coach" app provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for those dealing with trauma and anxiety or "Optimism", an app that helps those with depression and bipolar disorder track their mood (and brighten their day). Others, like Talkspace and Betterhelp, put their users in direct contact with therapists that can help them overcome specific problems. These both work with thousands of licensed therapists and offer an accessible and more importantly affordable way for anyone to reach out for help.

The Next Step

Smartphone apps can do some good on their own but may literally be life-savers when they are coupled with the right set of sensors. The new ECG sensor built into the new Apple Watch would be the perfect example.

One of the features the Cupertino giant advertised about its new gadget is that it can help detect atrial fibrillation, a condition that - if untreated - can lead to blood clots, strokes, heart failure, and other serious issues. And, according to the press, it has already saved lives: a 46-year-old man from Richmond, Virginia, USA, was alerted by his new Apple Watch of his highly irregular heartbeat, and this convinced him to visit a doctor. His condition was diagnosed and treated, potentially saving him from a series of issues down the line.

Smartphones, in general, have been blamed for many of our modern-day problems, especially digital addiction. But used in the right way, they can be good for both our mental and physical health.

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