As smartphones and the Internet Of Things continue to change the way we live our lives, we've become more and more comfortable with ideas that once seemed crazy. Putting credit card information and spending money online? Ordering and then getting into an absolute stranger's car for a ride? Publishing personal information on a social network? All of these practices are very normal today, but not too long ago living a life that wasn't always marked clearly by in-person interactions seemed strange and potentially unsafe.
One industry that's been slow to make a transition of this nature to virtual transactions is medicine. To be fair, health isn't something to play around with, and there's no substitute for physically going to a hospital to get treatment for serious bodily injuries and diseases. However, due to the growing strength of partnerships between doctors and tech companies, medical expertise and advice that don't require in-person interactions are becoming more and more available online.
Health apps, once little more than a step tracker, are poised to surge in use next year. "We are seeing a steady embrace of tools," Trine Tsouderos, co-director of PWC Health Research Institute, told the New York Daily News recently. "Sixteen percent of consumers in 2013 had a health app and in 2015, 32 percent had health apps."
Ranging from fitness apps to an "Instagram for doctors," health apps are putting a heavier focus on strengthening the relationship between users and medical experts while simultaneously cutting down on the time it takes for both to reach each other. While it's easier to foster a conversation on less serious health issues such as nutrition and exercise, more chronic conditions are starting to see progress, too. Apps for people who have diabetes or heart problems, for example, can use certain apps to monitor vitals and send reports directly to their doctors. Similarly, people who develop externally visible conditions like rashes or varicose veins can take pictures and send them to doctors for a diagnosis and possible courses for treatment. As for mental health, there's still a long way to go, but 2016 could see a higher emphasis on leveraging technology that allows for people suffering from mental diseases to connect with mental health professionals for a consultation.
It'll be a while before healthcare as a whole becomes the kind of on-demand service that food delivery has become thanks to apps, and truthfully it may never quite get there. Any progress toward that point is positive, though — getting attention in medicine can be a difficult, time-consuming progress on both sides. With advanced, secure technology that cuts down on that friction, everyone benefits.
Cover image: Jason Howie via Flickr