When Sara Nita's son Marcus was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last fall, she began keeping a written log of his multiple daily blood-sugar readings.
But she soon started casting around for a way to keep an electronic record, something she could enter into her smartphone that would show trends in Marcus's glucose levels over time.
What she discovered was the Bant app, a free download through iTunes that's named after Canadian insulin developer Frederick Banting and aims to help patients better control their diabetes.
"I wanted something that I could view on my phone when he's away at school and the teacher calls - I just wanted to have a log of it, instead of carrying a paper copy here and there and everywhere."
Nita says the app also allows her to send screenshots of Marcus's readings to his dad, from whom she is divorced, so he can also stay on top of the six-year-old boy's blood sugar. Graphs of readings show trends over time.
"I really like it because it shows ups and downs, and the way you can tell if he's starting to decline, maybe he might need a little less insulin or a little more, depending on his history in the last couple of days."
It also helps her son, she says. "When he realizes his trends, he can say ... maybe I should talk to Mom about maybe changing my insulin dose, maybe calling the doctor to get an adjustment.' "
The Bant is just one medical-related app under development by the University Health Network in Toronto.
Nita is using the public version of Bant, but UHN hopes to have a more advanced adaptation that automatically reads the data from a glucometer - the device that takes blood-sugar readings from a skin prick - available for free download soon.
"This is something to engage the patient in what we call self-care," says co-developer Joseph Cafazzo, a biomedical engineer who heads the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation at UHN. "And to a certain extent make them less dependent on their care providers and give them the life skills that they need in order to manage their diabetes."
Cafazzo's team has also developed an app to keep track of blood-pressure readings in patients ages 45 and older. In a recent clinical trial, use of the app was shown to have measurable effects on patients' blood pressure compared to a control group that used a blood pressure monitor alone.
"What we found after a year was the people who had the telemonitoring component with the BlackBerry, their blood pressure dropped by 10 millimetres of mercury systolic and four points diastolic," he says, adding their risk of heart attack and stroke dropped by 20 per cent as a result.
"The patients just become much more self-aware by taking the blood-pressure measurements on a regular basis. And they're more engaged and they're more likely to take their medications and more likely to have lifestyle changes that are necessary for their blood pressure management."
There has been an explosion of medical-related apps - a recent report by the Healthcare Information Management System Society tabbed the number at about 17,000 and growing - for use on smartphones and other electronic devices.
A new app, called Directory for Addiction Treatment in Canada, was just released by Drug Rehab Services, a private addiction referral service.
The app lists low-cost and nocost detox and treatment centres across Canada for people seeking help for alcohol or drug addiction.
It also provides listings of meetings for Alcoholic Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon across the country, Marcelo Gemme says.
The app can also put a user in direct contact with a qualified addictions counsellor, through a toll-free call or text-messaging.
The mobile app will pinpoint the locations of treatment centres or support meetings within a distance set by the user, he says.
"Let's say if it's an AA meeting, you're going to have a pin for every AA meeting within 25 kilometres.
"If you have a guy who has to travel, this is perfect, because he wants to go to a meeting when he has time off, so it doesn't trigger anything."
Nita says the Bant app has given her more than just a means of tracking Marcus's glucose readings - a built-in social media component has allowed her to get in touch with other families dealing with diabetes.
"When I found this app, that's how I actually found the whole diabetic community online ... and that's helped a lot.
"There's always someone there who's already gone through what I'm going through."
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