Location-based health and mobile healthcare

AED location app

As services that rely on GPS-tracking and location-based data — Foursquare and Gowalla come to mind — become more popular, and services like Google Latitude and the upcoming Facebook Places start vying for a piece of the traffic, will mobile health providers be able to get in on the action? ReadWriteWeb seems to think so:

From emergency to non-emergency to everyday preventative health care, location tracking technologies could make a big impact on our health and well-being in the future. While two million consumers use Foursquare today to find the best nearby coffee shops and bars, what if in the future they used it to locate the best pediatricians, emergency clinics, or even restaurants that catered to their unique health needs? Some intersection between location and health care has already begun, but what we’ve seen so far is likely only the beginning.

I’ve long been skeptical of the usefulness of location-based services like Foursquare. For a while there, it was really just a game. A way for smartphone toters to annoy their friends, or shame them, on Twitter and Facebook by showing them what restaurant they visited for lunch. (Not making it any easier on those of us trying to convince colleagues of the professional usefulness of social media.) Now, however, companies like Starbucks are launching coupons, and a new company called GroupTabs is linking the popular Groupon service with location-based apps to give deals to users who can “prove” by means of a check-in, that they’re enjoying the establishment’s wares.

Moving into the health sphere, location-based stuff seems like it may translate well and, in fact, the seeds of location-based health have been around for quite a while. For those in the US who need to find a cheap doctor in-network (bless their souls) or someone in Vancouver trying to find a family doctor accepting new patients (good luck), these location-based media may find a niche. For pragmatic travellers, the application pictured above uses augmented reality to plot the location of the nearest public AED.

But there are problems to the mobile health side of things as well:

“Ultimately, I think we’re going to need to be platform independent, even device independent,” Ahier argues. “We’re going to need to be able to use an Ubuntu netbook, an iPad, etc. Our EHR (electronic health records) are going to have to run on all those.”

Compounding the compatibility problems is the fact that most health information is regulated by some form of government oversight (HIPAA, PIPEDA, you name it). So not only do mobile health developers have to join the platform wars between Apple and Android, Flash and HTML5, native and web apps (not to mention cloud computing), but they will also have to ensure that privacy and confidentiality are taken more seriously than heavy hitters and potential future partners, Google and Facebook, have previously been known for.

I don’t relish the long road ahead, but I very much look forward to seeing the innovations on the other side.

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