Opinion Piece: Ruairidh Barlow, MyTherapy

With the rapid advance of smartphone technology, and their seemingly universal use, all around the world people are working out how to best take advantage of it. Never before have we had the chance to access so many people so easily. Which, in a sector like healthcare, and even more so with public healthcare, where resources are squeezed, and time is limited, this obviously represents a big opportunity. Of course, with people’s health is at stake, it is also something to be handled with
meticulous care.

Poland recently rolled out a scheme which will see all of its prescriptions managed by an online database, eventually requiring all patients to order their medication through an online portal, which was met with somewhat ‘mixed’ reactions, to say the least. Meanwhile, closer to home, the recent Carillion scandal was a disturbing example of what can happen if public services are not closely scrutinised.

All over the world, but in particular with the NHS, which must find ways to match its ever-shrinking resources to its ever-aging population, healthcare systems are wondering if they can use technology to solve these resource issues. Recently in a trial scheme, Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGM) became available to those with Type 1 Diabetes in some areas of the UK, which allows patients to constantly track their levels of blood sugar, allowing better control, and therefore reducing the likelihood of hypos. Of course, there is also an app which allows you to see all the data and measurements on your phone. Whether in the long-run this can be made cost effective remains to be seen, but it would certainly optimise the process.

Given the vast array of issues facing healthcare systems and the world’s growing number of people with chronic illnesses, there’s no shortage of problems to be solved. Yet one of the more preventable ones would be adherence. It is estimated that only around 50% of patients take their medication as prescribed (WHO), which obviously creates problems of its own. These effects include about £500 million in avoidable costs for the NHS, and more disturbingly, 200,000 deaths each year in the EU, which are put down to not following medication properly.

Developed in Germany by Smartpatient, the MyTherapy app is perhaps the best response to the problem as of yet. Free, available on iOS and Android in over 20 languages, the reminder app aims to make adherence an afterthought. Extremely versatile, it allows users to add medication schedules, regardless of how complicated, and gives the option to complete or skip the medication every time it is due. Then collecting the information, it provides a series of simple graphics to show the user their adherence record over time. This, in conjunction with the symptom tracker gives the user a comprehensive overview of how their treatment is working – it’s also possible to share the information with doctors, reducing the time it takes to find solutions to any potential problems. While mobile technology is still in its relative infancy, its rapid colonization of the world has given rise to an entire new industry, of which the benefits (and disadvantages) are yet to be fully explored. Yet if, as we are beginning to see, we can work out how to utilize the tools we have properly, it could change the entire narrative of healthcare across the world.