FeaturesDec/Jan 2013 Issue

Gluten and Allergy Apps

Tracking Health

Simplicity is the common thread among successful apps. When Antico developed the AllergyEats website and app, he created a system that asks just three questions about the 600,000 restaurants being reviewed, using an easy star rating.

“I want to make it as simple as possible,” he says.

In a survey conducted in April 2011 about the use of health apps, the Consumer Health Information Corporation discovered that the key reason most people (over 90 percent of participants) find apps favorable is ease of navigation. The survey also found that 80 percent are more likely to use an app that can analyze information and provide feedback.

Sam Pejham, MD, FAAP, sees a lot of asthma patients in his medical practice. As assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical School and chief of the department of pediatrics at ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton, California, Pejham was looking for a simple way to use technology to help asthmatics track their symptoms and peak flow measurements. He wanted better information with which to make decisions about their care. So he created the AsthmaMD app, a user-friendly, interactive tool that uses smartphone technology.

“People tend to carry their phone with them all of the time. That makes it an especially useful tool for managing a chronic condition that has symptoms that can appear anytime, anywhere,” he says.

Screen shot from AllergyEats, displaying typical user- generated information.

AsthmaMD furthers asthma research by gathering data from more than 65,000 users. The information about locations, ages, symptoms and asthma activity is collected anonymously and analyzed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, to discover how asthma rates correlate with certain factors, such as location and pollution. A goal is to create a system that provides early warnings by text message to asthma patients about certain triggers, Pejham says.

AsthmaMD also helps patients manage their disease. Users can log asthma activity, as well as input triggers, medications and notes about their symptoms. The app crunches the information and creates an easy-to-understand graphic representation.

“It just takes a second or two for a doctor to look at the picture to know how a patient is doing,” Pejham says.

That feature has helped Hahne, who uses AsthmaMD to track her inhaler use and asthma symptoms. With a quick look at her phone, she can gauge whether she’s having a good or bad week with her asthma. She brings that information to her doctor so they can discuss those times when her asthma flared.

Pejham has seen a difference in the quality of visits with his patients who track their asthma via the app.

“When they come in, it’s as if I’ve been tracking them for months because they have all this beautiful data for me,” he says. “A single visit becomes so much more powerful.”

Sakina Bajowala, MD, an allergist/immunologist in the Chicago area, uses technology to help her patients. When she first gives a diagnosis to a patient, she explains the treatment plan, what to avoid, the necessary action plans for food allergy or asthma and then refers them to websites where they can find support. She asks her patients to return about two weeks after diagnosis for an educational visit to provide further guidance. That’s when she brings out her smartphone or tablet to show apps that might work for them. AsthmaMD, Asthma Tracker, Pollen.com’s Allergy Alert and AllergyEats are among those she recommends.

“I try to give patients as many helpful tools as possible,” Bajowala says. “Apps are especially beneficial in helping teens comply with their treatment plans.”

Next: Finding Support

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