Health Apps as Assistive Technology?


By Norman G. DeLisle, Project Consultant

hand holding a phone with a red plus sign iconOne of the most interesting areas of app development is in health care. Not only are there a lot of apps, but they are constantly changing, and every platform (smartphones, watches, fitness devices, even the Internet of Things (IoT), etc.) is a part of this churn of possibilities-and failures.

A recent article reviewed the business categories of health apps and is a useful way to consider the role of a particular designed app as well as how customer-centric it really is. Those categories are:

  • Knowledge is Power
  • Contacting Health Professionals
  • Join an Online Community for Special Medical Needs
  • Health Alerts and Reminders
  • Promotion of Health and Wellness

It is important to note that these kinds of apps are generally aimed at a fairly large audience and their usefulness to persons with disabilities is more the case of an individual making use of an app that wasn’t necessarily designed for that specific purpose, but can be used that way.

Two categories that allow for greater customization are Reminders which are generally useful for any purpose and Online Community apps that are specific to persons with a shared interest in some aspect of disability culture and characteristics. Knowledge tends to be medically and diagnostically oriented and often does not deal with the reality of navigating a full and free life with a disability.

Promotion of Health and Wellness can offer generally useful information, but is often too general to be specifically useful or easily accommodated to the needs of a specific person.

There are continuing problems with making health apps genuinely useful to people with disabilities.

Woman wearing blue scrubs pulling a paper file from a full shelf of filesOne critical area is the requirement in many that you spend a lot of time entering personal medically relevant data, numbers, and diagnostic information. This is tedious at best and subject to mistakes, and illustrates a dimension of health care integration that doesn’t receive much attention. To make health apps easily usable, we need usable electronic health records and adequate security systems so that we can connect an app with our already existing records.

Another critical problem is that we can’t expect genuine customization of health apps until the layer of medical credentialing, information updating, and liability issues have some real standards that can be used in the development of apps.

Two things come to mind. One is that members of our communities should be taking the lead in developing and providing technical assistance to businesses that view such health apps as appropriate for development. The other is that we can’t take the current crop of apps too seriously, and we should probably view them as more like games than real medically useful tools. We can play with games, learn from them, and use them to solve small problems in our life, but they aren’t ready for us to use them as though our lives depended on them.


What do you think? Let us know!