Innovations in Digital Access to Care

When I bought my Samsung smartphone in 2014, I never thought the heart rate monitor would become more than an entertaining gimmick, but smartphones tend to introduce odd features that become standard necessities. Think of the camera and calculator apps; these features, once thought to be arbitrary, are now expected on a mobile device. Today, the trend is wellness, and a vast number of new health-monitoring apps appear every year. But this growing trend is not just convenient, it is saving lives! It is providing access to care for more people – people who live in rural areas, people with chronic disabilities, and people challenged by health literacy – just to mention a few. As I discovered with my own smartphone, small developments can create a big change in how people view health care.

Earlier this year, American Well (a telehealth service) announced its partnership with Samsung to add 24/7 Online Doctor Visits to S-Health (Samsung’s official wellness and health-monitoring app). This added service allows just about anyone with a Samsung smartphone to enroll and speak with a doctor in their network. What makes this software development innovative is its ability to seamlessly integrate several health services (including wearable devices!) into a single app. With everything in one place, people are more likely to use and benefit from this service.

For instance, before I had my Samsung smartphone, the only way to track my heart rate was to schedule an appointment with a doctor or go out and buy a separate heart rate monitor. Neither of which were worth the trouble for me. With S-Health, I can check my heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, exercise, diet, etc. And now, I can also remotely visit with a doctor. Telehealth has provided access to those who might otherwise shrug their shoulders at a service out of inconvenience or unavailability. People living in rural areas, as an example, are often required to drive hours for a 15-minute consultation where a simple Skype or phone call would suffice. Having a doctor a few clicks away makes getting care both easy and affordable.

Some argue that wellness apps do not motivate people to make healthier choices, and to that I’d say, “they’re right.” But for those who are already motivated, yet unable, to monitor their health or receive the medical attention they need, services like Samsung’s new telehealth feature are truly a beneficial (and used) service. The benefit is especially useful to people with chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity who need to track their weight and blood pressure. Having a doctor at their fingertips saves time and money and gives them added peace of mind. Also, to eliminate the need for people with diabetes to prick their fingers, Apple has begun developing a wearable device that tracks blood-sugar levels through sweat.

In addition to accessibility and usability, wellness and health-monitoring applications also help improve health education. This is more than just a replacement for Dr. Google, it is a one-stop source for personalized health information. For instance, the S-Health application provides recent news on health care. Additionally, Health Insight cards provide custom advice on ways to stay healthy and reach my health goals. As companies continue to expand their services, we may see these health apps integrating medical records and membership information to become primary sources of health and health care information.

Looking forward, our mobile devices will become a more integral part of our health care; not just for patients who want to track their health habits, but also for those who have previously been unable to access the care they need – from people who live in rural regions to people with chronic disabilities to those who need a better understanding of their health care options. As telehealth continues to migrate toward the mobile devices we already use, our view on health care can transform to one that’s more accessible, convenient, and informative – one that does not require an appointment, a three-hour commute, and a co-payment for a 15-minute consultation with a doctor.