Consumer Use of Computerized Applications to Address Health and Health Care Needs. Take action to monitor and improve health


Complementing the articles and other information available online, computerized applications can also help consumers make decisions, monitor their chronic conditions, or receive assistance in engaging in healthier behaviors. According to one recent literature review, the most common topics for computerized tools are nutrition, weight management, tobacco cessation, and cancer and diabetes prevention and management.[40]

Decision aids are designed to provide an individual with information about the condition and the probable outcomes of different treatment courses, to help her determine which outcomes are of the greatest importance, and then to facilitate a decision process that matches her preferences with the treatment options. [41] As decision aids are emerging in growing numbers, several organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), have established lists to catalogue available tools.

Games can help bring to life the importance of engaging in healthy behaviors and managing diseases. As a sign of the increased interest in this more dynamic approach to health promotion, in May 2008 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded $2-million in grants as the first round of its Health Games Research project.[42] The programs being evaluated in this initial round of the grant program include a mobile-phone based game to encourage adolescents to eat nutritiously; several “exergames” that involve engaging participants in physical activity; and a video game that gathers breath biofeedback from cystic fibrosis patients and helps them monitor their condition.

Some applications help users monitor symptoms. Patient diaries allow individuals with chronic conditions to record their symptoms systematically. These applications may also allow for interaction between individuals and their providers. In one pilot project at a Veterans Affairs hospital, patients could take note of their experiences with intermittent chronic pain in a patient diary.[43] This information was relayed to a pain management specialist for periodic review. Such a system could be designed to include automatic alerts that would notify a physician if symptoms surpassed a predetermined threshold. Rather than manually entering symptoms in the online tool, various health monitoring devices (including scales, blood glucose monitors, and blood pressure monitors) can be plugged directly into a computer. Some web portals allow users to download information directly from these monitoring devices, integrate it into an existing health profile, and potentially make this output accessible to providers.

Of course, just as 71% of internet-using adults have purchased something online,[44] the web could be a marketplace for health-related products. Not only can consumers buy these health monitors, but they can also find diet and wellness products, medications, and other items.

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