Smartphones and iPads Allow Patients to Take Control

The computing power available in mobile devices, combined with the ease of use that a touch interface allows, is making it possible for consumers to take greater control over their medical treatment than ever before. This control ranges from checking information about illnesses and treatment to the replacement of physical abilities lost due to injury or illness. The days of simply doing what doctors tell you are a thing of the past, due to the smartphone and the iPad (s aapl) enabling you to take a greater role in your own healthcare.

There are many apps for smartphones that put a wealth of medical information at hand, from explanations of symptoms to probable diagnoses. While these don’t replace proper medical care, for the first time, the patient is armed with the ability to do simple research, ask the proper questions of healthcare professionals and better understand the care at the point it is rendered.

Doctors themselves are also taking advantage of mobile devices to provide medical care when needed: Apps enable them to remotely monitor patient vital signs in real-time, and render aid from anywhere. And individuals are also using mobile devices in conjunction with their own medical care, with sometimes stunning results.

Parents of children with special needs, for example, are finding an unexpected way to communicate with their kids that is changing their lives in a dramatic fashion: the iPad. The iPad is a recognized tool of therapy for children with autism and other medical issues that affects their ability to communicate with those closest to them. The easy operation of the iPad has resonated with these children, as professionals involved in the treatment of the kids have discovered.

The New York Times (s nyt) tells the story of seven-year-old Owen Cain, who is disabled due to a severe illness contracted during infancy. Owen has very restricted movement, yet to the surprise of his mother, he was able to immediately interact with an iPad placed in front of him. Owen’s intuitive reaction to the iPad is a theme commonly heard in such cases, and no doubt why the iPad is so effective for these children to start using.

[inline-pro-content] During the research for this article, one app kept getting mentioned by those working with these children: Proloquo2Go is an app that works on the iPhone/ iPod touch and the iPad, but the iPad with the larger screen is the device of choice for using it. The app is designed by Netherlands-based AssistiveWare to provide a natural sounding voice to those challenged to speak coherently. It is not a simple text-to-speech app, but makes it possible for users to string coherent phrases together into complete conversations by using graphical icons, in addition to a keyboard easy to use by those with motor skill challenges. This opens the door for parents to really converse with their kids for the first time, which is an amazing breakthrough.

Laura Theriot, mother of 10-year-old Tom, knows firsthand how incredible that breakthrough can be. Using Proloquo2Go on the iPad, she has learned things about Tom through conversation that she’d never imagined over the years. “It’s a way that I am going to get to know my child, he is a joker and loves to laugh. We know he’s laughing, but have never been able to hear about what.”

The benefits of Proloquo2Go on the iPad are not restricted to children, as blogger Glenda Watson Hyatt points out. Hyatt has cerebral palsy that affects her motor skills and her speech. She recently bought an iPad and Proloquo2Go and her account of the way it has changed her life is breathtaking. The technology has opened up things for her that most of us take for granted:

Then, I did something I had never done before: I went into one of the many Starbucks at O’Hare and ordered my first mocha frappuccino by myself. No misunderstanding or hand gesturing involved. It was so cool, like another door had just opened for me!

The combination of an iPad with Proloquo2Go is proving to be very powerful, but it is not a cheap solution. The cost of the iPad starts the pricing at around $500, depending on the model chosen, and Proloquo2go is expensive as far as apps go at $190. While this seems too expensive, it is important to remember that until the iPad, special assistive gadgets were the only options for those with this need, and those cost thousands of dollars. As the mother of an autistic child told me, you can’t put a price on the first time your child tells you she “likes apple juice better.”

Technology is already available to consumers that enables taking a more active role in healthcare. This technology can be found in free (or cheap) apps for smartphones, and it should not be overlooked. The more sophisticated methods of using technology that have been discussed may require an investment, but many are finding it to be well worth the cost. What price is too high for taking control over your life?

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