An app ecosystem for health

October 18, 2010
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Facebook as some 550,000 apps, according to the Wall Street Journal. Among the most popular are Farmville, a virtual farm game, Phrases, which show random phrases and quotations, and Texas Hold’em….nbsp; Then there’s iHeart, a tool for sending hearts to your friends.

Facebook as some 550,000 apps, according to the Wall Street Journal. Among the most popular are Farmville, a virtual farm game, Phrases, which show random phrases and quotations, and Texas Hold’em….nbsp; Then there’s iHeart, a tool for sending hearts to your friends. My point isn’t that all the Facebook (and iPhone) apps are trivial, but that a vast community of developers can on these platforms can let their imaginations run wild.

Now consider what they could do in health. A company called BodyMedia sells a $249 arm-band that monitors the functioning of the human body and sends the data directly to a smart phone. According to a Steve Lohr item in the NYTimes, it can collect 9,000 variables, including physical activity, calories burned and sleep efficiency. None of this data means much without software to analyze it.

That’s where the app developers come in. If they focus on this stream of data, they should be able to create tools to let us compare different metrics, including ones we haven’t yet imagined, send alarms when they various threshholds, share them with friends or relatives, and participate in big community health projects.

The pioneers in this field are elite athletes who wire themselves, babies in incubators, the very ill, and certain elderly populations who have agreed to be studied. But as the mainstream population hooks on this technology, we’ll be able to study all sorts of things. It could be a revolution in health, moving from reporting symptoms to monitoring processes. But it could be hell for hypochondriacs…