/ Health, Technology

Can mobile apps help fight the spread of disease?

Girl sneezing

There’s an app for just about everything – and now they’re being used to help understand how diseases spread. The question is; would you be happy to have your movements tracked for the greater good?

Where can the world of mobile technology go next? I’ve seen a couple of stories this week that got me thinking about some potential new uses.

As well as allowing us to run our lives from our pockets, could smartphones also now have a part to play in stopping us from getting ill?

Your health is being tracked

The BBC reported on the FluPhone app that could help monitor the way infectious diseases are spread. In a trial of volunteers with the app installed on their mobile, it was able to record how many people each ‘ill’ person came into contact with.

The app developers say that, with these people’s permission, the data collected can be used to help us to understand the way disease is spread. And could even inform the way medical advice is given by the Government in the case of an epidemic.

Alternatively, if you start feeling ill you could turn to Twitter. The Guardian reported on an online service called Kazemill which monitors health-related tweets.

It uses the tweets to map hourly updates on how symptoms are spreading and could be rolled out worldwide next year. There are plans to develop the service further and create an illness ‘forecast’ for common ailments like cold, flu and hayfever.

Time to shun privacy concerns?

Now while I don’t wish to panic anyone about the potential outbreak of disease, it does seem like ideas like these – although perhaps not quite fully formed or perfected yet – could have some use.

If we can use mobile technology to gain insights that might minimise or manage an outbreak of illness then surely it’s worth considering?

There’s been, quite rightly, a lot of concern about privacy and tracking in the news recently – like Apple’s iPhone recording users’ movements – but I think it’s interesting to turn things on their head. Could tracking in this case be a force for good?

Comments
Guest
Michael London says:
7 May 2011

I would like to start by saying yes this could be interesting but it is to open to abuse as people tend to forget to update regularly so will make a guess at a later date so I dont think it could be used as statistical evidence. So in my opinion it would a good app but for entertainment purposes only. I think it would be more accurate if the app let you put in when you get sick your travel patterns and symptoms. then let the experts deal with the raw data.

And secondly if your privacy is the only thing stopping you then dont let it. Just about every smart phone continuously sends your location to mobile companies and just about every peice of software has built in backdoors and monitoring programs built into them. so if your worried about your privacy use open source software or just dont worry.

Profile photo of chris
Guest

Common sense should rule
anyone with enough knowledge to operate an iphone app should know to isolate themselves when they are infectious, if not – re-package the goods and return them to the store, they are too stupid to own devices with electricity.

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Guest

More health apps could be on the way – NHS Direct has launched a free mobile app today which lets you assess your own or someone else’s symptoms by answering specially designed questions.

It will then give you instant on-screen self-care advice, or instructions on the most appropriate course of action. Of couse, it’s just a version of the health and symptom checkers that are already available online on the NHS Direct website but it might prove useful if you start feeling ill while out and about.

It’s only available for people with Android smartphones at the moment but an iPhone version is launching later this month.