Hannah Faith Leigh

Is 2012 the year we see the Star Trek tricorder become reality? If recent claims made by producers of smart phone apps are anything to go by, we’re nearly there. Wander around most technology store and you’ll find blood pressure cuffs that connect to your computer or tablet device, and heart rate monitors for exercise. But it is the development of new apps that brings a whole new meaning to ‘self diagnosis’.


The so-called ‘health and fitness applications’ began with food diaries and exercise monitors like MyFitnessPal and Nike +, which allow you to track your calorie intake and your exercise. These remain standard applications which make keep-fit lifestyles a little easier to maintain, and provide motivation for the user.


Then came the sleep-cycle apps and period trackers, which provide a more detailed outlook on users’ lifestyles. The former records your mood and hours of disturbed vs. undisturbed sleep, and the latter tracks ovulation and menstrual cycle length.


But would you use an app to test your eyesight for example? Boots Opticians launched their ‘Eye Check’ app in November of last year. It is designed to test for visual acuity, astigmatism and duochrome. It also offers a colour test and provides recommendations based on percentages received in each of the testing categories.


Although Boots stressed that this application was not intended as a replacement for an actual eye examination, it was introduced to provide a stopgap for those who don’t regularly attend their biannual checkups.


How about A&E on your phone? Don’t pretend you haven’t googled that stomach-ache, thinking it was appendicitis. Or have you sat in a lecture with a hangover, convincing yourself you are on the verge of death? If you could input some symptoms to try and find out whether it was that one glass of wine too many or whether you should actually seek medical intervention, would you? Introducing iTriage… the app that does it all, or at least appears to. You can search for your symptoms and are offered potential causes and treatment options with the facilities to help you find an appropriate physician. Sold yet?


If these apps are beginning to sound a little far-fetched, and you would never consider them a replacement for medical treatment, wait until you hear about the latest developments. Scientists from the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology are working on the concept of turning your touch-screen phone into a personal path lab, where films can be placed on your smart phone and droplets of saliva, urine and blood applied to test for food poisoning or the flu.


Considering the strain to the system that ensued with the introduction of the NHS Direct service, which referred large numbers of people to their GPs. Perhaps the very idea of the public having access to their own lab rings alarm bells for the scientists and medical practitioners out there.


Health apps have paved the way for developing a healthier attitude where people are more in touch with their own lifestyle than ever before, but will smartphone apps ever replace the age-old institution of the doctor? It seems unlikely to me. Dr. iPhone should be stripped of its fitness to practice before it gets out of hand.

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