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Crisis Response Journal Crisis Response Journal

The potential of apps to save lives

Posted on 16th August 2016 at 12:12pm

It is no secret that we live in a time where technology dominates our day-to-day life. Modern living is predicated on the types of gadgets or technology that are available. Technology is always changing, with everyone from big companies to scientists to independent developers advancing any number of fields every day.

Pioneering into cutting-edge technology and creating innovative software, Apple is at the forefront of the technological world. The company has opened its framework to thousands of developers, who have created more than two million applications across all of their platforms. Finance, education, entertainment, and many more aspects of society have already been revolutionised by technology, and crisis response could be next.

In recent years, Apple has taken an interest to healthcare, releasing software (and hardware) that make it easier to keep track of and manage a user’s daily health.

In 2014, Apple released HealthKit, which allowed iPhone users to track a multitude of daily health data in one place: on their phones. Using the new Health app, people can track their steps, calorie intake, weigh, and blood-glucose level, all from the palm of their hand. The company took it a step further with the release of the Apple Watch. Using built-in sensors and compatibility with HealthKit, the watch allows users to track their movements, food intake, heart rate, and many other types of health data throughout the day, whether while working out or simply through their everyday activities. Users can set fitness goals, track their progress over time, and watch themselves become more fit and active.

Also from Apple, ResearchKit allows developers and medical professionals to create applications that allow users to participate in various types of medical research. For example, the mPower app from the University of Rochester has over 10,000 Parkinson’s disease patients enrolled in its mobile phone study that tracks the user’s symptoms throughout their day. An app created by Massachusetts General Hospital called GlucoSuccess uses certain features of the iPhone along with data input from the user pertaining to food intake and medication to track the symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes. Using the app, the team has been able to support the theory that there are multiple subtypes of the disease, some of which respond differently to exercise and medication.

In the last few years, technology has become an integral part of the medical system. From changing the way people think about fitness to revolutionising medical research, Apple has lead the way in moulding modern medicine. Through extending existing technologies and maybe even thinking up some new ones, companies like Apple are a few steps away from changing the way we thing about disaster medicine and crisis response as well.

Frameworks like HealthKit and ResearchKit could be modified in simple ways to change the world. If an app exists that can track Parkinson’s, what is stopping developers from creating something to screen for diseases like malaria or Zika? What is stopping developers from modifying HealthKit to assist first responders during a disaster? The possibilities and implications are truly endless.

By Ian Bogdanowiz, Carly Esteves, Emily Koehler, Ashley Monaco and Ian Portelli.

This blog is a shorter version of a full article looking at the future potential of smartphones and mobile applications in disaster trauma medicine and crises, by connecting, informing and providing life-saving care to those whohave been affected by catastrophic events. The article is published in CRJ 12:1, published in September 2016.

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