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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizonans creating, testing health apps

Want to quit smoking? There is an app for that — made in Arizona.

Researchers and entrepreneurs are developing apps to make Arizonans healthier, and they also are testing existing mobile health devices to see if they actually work.

“We can now empower people to take their health into their own hands,” said Dr. David G. Armstrong, UA professor of surgery and director of Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance. “That’s the future of care. What’s pretty cool is that future is now.”

The UA is releasing its first free health app, See Me Smoke-Free, the first week of April for trial testing.

Created by Judith Gordon, an associate professor in the UA Department of Family and Community Medicine, the app is designed to help women quit smoking, eat better and exercise more.

“It’s primarily aimed at getting women to feel good about themselves and to live a healthier lifestyle,” Gordon said.

Women, for the first time, are more likely than men to die from diseases caused by smoking, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When women gain weight, some tend to relapse and go back to smoking, Gordon said.

With the use of images and audio files, the app focuses on helping women quit smoking as well as helping with body image and nutrition. Users can view pink flowers on their mobile devices while listening to soothing audio files and “imagine themselves smoke-free,” Gordon said. Athletes use a similar process before they prepare for a game, according to Gordon.

The app provides links to websites and shows how much money users save every day they do not smoke. The app also is “gameified,” which means the users receive awards for every goal they meet, Gordon said.

Gordon collaborated with UA nutritional sciences professor Melanie Hingle, UA computer engineering professor Thienne Johnson, and Peter Giacobbi, associate professor from West Virginia University. 

“Partnering was really important, because this is a multi-behavioral intervention,” Gordon said.

See Me Smoke-Free is the second health app Gordon created. She also designed RxCoach to help men and women take their medication to quit smoking.

RxCoach includes a daily reminder to take medication, and asks the user why they are not taking their medication.

Some people forget, while others do not know how to take the medication, fail to talk with pharmacists or are unaware of the side effects.

Twenty-nine people were included in a trial program to see how the app worked. During the first phase, between 80 and 100 percent of people took their medication while using RxCoach, according to Gordon.

RxCoach will cost $2.99, but a free version also will be available for download on the iTunes App Store.

Banner — University Medical Center Tucson is using mobile apps attached to wearables to help patients in the Intensive Care Unit, according to Armstrong.

Andreas Proroczok, a patient in Armstrong’s research study, used SurroSense Rx, which is a watch that is connected to shoe insoles to help with balance.

The insoles monitor four pressure points to help track balance. When a patient stands on one pressure point too long, the watch notifies the patient.

Due to Proroczok’s severe neuropathy, he lost half his foot and cannot feel certain pressure points. The watch notifies him when he has abnormal pressure on his feet, Proroczok said.

“Because I have no sensation in my feet, it actually helped me balance out better in my feet,” Proroczok said.

Other devices Armstrong uses within the ICU include a BioHarness connected to the chest to transmit information to an app called ZephyrMD, such as heart rate, sleeping activity, temperature and respiration.

The health app market is growing, according to Makovsky, a communication firm out of New York, and Kelton, a marketing and research firm. About two-thirds of Americans say they want to use mobile devices and apps to better their personal health, according to a survey of 1,015 people conducted in January by Makovsky and Kelton.

People can find more than 20,000 health apps in the iTunes App store, according to iTunes, and many more on the Google Play store.

One question is whether they work.

“The vast majority of apps out there, we don’t know whether they actually do what they say they do, because they have never been tested,” Gordon said.

Self-monitoring can help raise awareness, but it is not enough to result in change, said Melanie Hingle, assistant professor of nutritional sciences and public health at the UA and partner on the See Me Smoke-Free app.

“We are kind of at the beginning,” Hingle said.

Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute has launched a project called HoneyBee to test the accuracy of data collected from mobile health devices.

“Do these things actually work to improve patient outcome?” asked Joe Caspermeyer, Biodesign Institute spokesman.

HoneyBee is employing seven clinical trials to test apps, including those intended to prevent heart failure, track exercise for diabetes patients and monitor arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeats. The project data will be available this summer or fall.

The Food and Drug Administration is focusing its attention on apps that could affect a person’s health negatively.

“The agency is focusing its oversight on a subset of mobile medical apps that pose a greater risk to patients,” said FDA spokeswoman Andrea Fischer.

The FDA does not regulate apps that are not posing health risks, such as medical flash cards, a library of clinical descriptions, paying medical claims online, or trackers, including See Me Smoke-Free. The FDA does regulate mobile medical apps that serve as an accessory to a medical device that could affect an individual’s health.

For users, if the app seems to work, then it works.

Danny Plewa, a UA junior studying chemistry and biochemistry, uses Argus, a tracking app that tracks steps and water usage. Using Argus has also become a game among his friends. They try to beat each other to see who gets the most steps.

Becky Lehman, a sign language interpreter from Tucson, said she lost 35 pounds using Fitbit, an app connected to a wristband that tracks a user’s movement.

“I don’t think it has to be 100 percent accurate to be helpful,” Lehman said.

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