Sunday, June 2, 2013



Medical Apps: Healthcare in the palm of your hand.

How many times in the last year have you heard any of the following sentences?

“Check out this new app I just got...”

“I’ve got the best idea for a new app, I just need to find a programmer...”

“This app is like actually sooo helpful!”

Whether you’ve got an iPhone or not, chances are you know what an “app” is and are likely overwhelmed with the shear app-fever that has taken hold of Western society in the last five years.

There are apps available for nearly every conceivable idea (including conception itself as seen below) and yet somehow new and novel ideas are made available to consumers at a rate of hundreds per day.

The term “app” actually applies to programs for both Apple and non-Apple devices and can be found on a variety of gadgets other than the iPhone or iPad. The term is actually much older than its relatively recent explosive popularity, as it came into existence as an abbreviation for the word “application” more than 15 years ago and continues to apply to many forms of software apart from games, social media programs, and nearest fast-food locators...  

But the problem with apps is not their availability, but rather their excessive and constantly growly numbers, which can cause many useful ideas for convenient lifestyle additions to be lost in an ever-deepening sea of colorful finger-sized icons.

In the spirit of this column and my obsessive nerdification of health science, I would like to highlight some of the contributions that the app craze has given to patient-driven healthcare by listing some of the health-related apps currently available and elaborating a few of the more intriguing ones that are both fascinating now and that carry significant prospects for the future.

1. Ovuline

This novel idea came into existence around five years ago with its first version: Smart Fertility, an app which sought to predict a woman’s ovulation periods based on a set of simple stats specific to the user (a woman trying to get pregnant).

Timing can mean everything...
Ovuline now uses a complex algorithm that incorporates data pertaining to the woman’s current condition (such as basal temperature, cervical fluid analysis, ovulation test results, physical symptoms, mood, etc.) and matches them up with lifestyle metrics (such as activity, weight, nutrition and sleep patterns) to accurately predict a woman’s most fertile days of her cycle: ovulation.

With the average user becoming pregnant within 2 months of signing up and using Ovuline, it seems to actually be working quite well. The founders of the app promise to continue updating their algorithm and expanding to pregnancy tracking as well as increase the personalization of the app, perhaps even taking the male partner’s status into account as well...

2. Time2brush

This child-oriented app turns brushing your teeth (and therefore dental hygiene and oral health) into a game. It teaches children how to properly brush their teeth by using a diagram that shows where to brush and a musical timer to tell them how long. It also awards point for each successful brush session and encourages children to stay on top of their teeth cleaning!

A slightly more complex version geared to wards adults (called OralEye) allows home users to snap photos of their mouth and send them off with a short dental history to a dentist. Most responses are quite quick and can help guide the patient with what to do next for their symptoms and suggested diagnosis.

3. Fitness apps

There are many different shapes, colors, and types of fitness apps that can do anything from keep a log of your workouts to map your runs, demonstrate exercises and stretches, and even factor in your heart rate, caloric intake, hydration, and advise changes to your routine in order to reach pre-programed fitness goals. Never before has it been easier to have a personal trainer literally in the palm of your hand, and what’s more is that it can be free!

I didn’t list any specific app in particular here because there are so many out there and each one fits the taste of a certain person, but check them out, they could be the missing piece in your ever-fleeting attempt to ‘actually get into shape’.

There are also a multitude of potentially helpful lifestyle monitoring apps that can keep track of complicated histories of everything from your food intake, to sleep patterns, to every possible metric for mothers and their newborns, to glucose levels and even hearing capabilities, all of which can be generally printed out and brought in to the doctor’s office to assist with understanding condition development and paint a fuller picture of a patient’s history.


Healthcare, like any other facet of the global economy, is a consumer activity that ranges from international organizations to intensive care units at a big hospitals to the Google-searching self-diagnoser sitting at home on their couch. However, the internet-propagated availability of health information through self-diangostic applications like WebMD, iTriage, or HealthTap has turned health care into an epidemic of health scare, so try not to get overwhelmed with everything that’s out there!

Remember to always take online diagnostic tools with a grain of salt and to use them as a guide, not a death sentence. If you do find yourself genuinely concerned with your current state of health, then make an appointment with your doctor, have a conversation with them, and go from there.

Good luck!


Feel free to contact columnists at Unleashed 

Medical Section Columnist, Kurtis Morrish:

My name is Kurtis Morrish. I graduated from Cal last year as an Integrative Biology major. I am now in the process of applying to medical school in the hopes of one day serving people as a family doctor. By no means do I write to you as an M.D., but I have extensive experience doing all kinds of scientific research; boiling-down long, dry, mumbo-jumbo-dense medical journals into a reduction that is a little sweeter, useful, and hopefully informative for you. I hope to learn as much from my writing as you do, so please hit me up with further questions, concerns, or comments!