There's more to the iPhone app store than just games and business-related apps. In fact, there are a handful of iPhone apps that point towards a future of patients having more medical data at their fingertips. We look at three of these apps.
MedWatcher is a free iPhone app, currently only available in the US, that alerts patients about recalls or other news related to their medications while also allowing them to record side effects.
MedWatcher taps into the US Food and Drug Administration's main drug alert system - called MedWatch - as well as other media sources. The application makes it easier for patients and doctors to track news about particular drugs.
"The FDA sends out a few dozen emails a day including recalls and drug alerts. It's too much information for any one individual to process on a daily basis," says Nabarun Dasgupta, co-developer of the MedWatcher application and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Global Public Health.
"We wanted to streamline this, and we thought the iPhone was a good platform to bring the information back to the patient."
MedWatcher also streamlines the process that patients and doctors use to report side effects of medications to the FDA. The FDA's two-page paper MedWatch form takes patients anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours to fill out.
"We've taken that process down to five steps. It takes about 10 minutes," Dasgupta says.
"Our healthcare system is predicated on the idea that consumers and physicians are reporting back to the FDA the side effects that they have experienced. The FDA is well aware that a very, very small fraction of drug events get reported. By streamlining the process, and putting it in the cloud, we hope to get more reports on drugs and to identify the adverse effects quicker. We're trying to get to a culture of personal responsibility and drug safety through this app."
Users of MedWatcher will be able to see reviews of medications and reports of side effects that are submitted by other patients.
In the future, Dasgupta would like to add more educational information for patients such as videos, pictures and tutorials to the application. He'd like to add a risk management component so that patients would be given extra information if, for example, they had to watch for a particular adverse effect in the first few weeks of taking a new medication.
"I'd like to have it be interactive, where the patient could ask questions and answers would be provided to the patient," Dasgupta says.
"We intend for this to be a platform where that type of patient education could happen. We'd also like to have alert reminders for patients to take their medication and a way for them to notify their doctor if they skipped a dose."