Managing our health at a touch of the screen

Online health platforms allow patients to consult with doctors via video or chat; however, privacy and security are an issue. — Bloomberg

According to the Statistics Department, ischaemic heart disease is the main cause of death in Malaysia, with 18,267 deaths (15.6% of the total number of deaths) recorded for the year 2018.

This condition can be indirectly caused by stress as the latter has an impact on the cardiovascular system.

Stress is an overbearing feeling when a person has to cope with adverse circumstances.

An example of an adverse circumstance faced by a person, is when he or she suffers from an illness and is plagued with the uncertainties of their health situation.

A study showed that some cancer patients were psychologically affected and suffered from stress disorders as a result of their disease.

And let’s not forget about healthcare workers.

For example, doctors and nurses who work at the emergency department face a high-stress work environment and are constantly on the move from one ward to another.

These highly-stressed medical personnel are at risk of suffering from burnout, which can lead to misdiagnosis or mistreatment of a patient’s condition.

So, on one hand, you have patients who are feeling stressed because of their circumstances.

On the other hand, you have healthcare workers who are put in a stressful work environment.

Given the importance of a two-way communication between a patient and a doctor, there is an urgent need for an improved healthcare management system that can help reduce stress faced by both parties.

One of the ways to reform healthcare management is through the use of mobile devices and applications.

This has proven to be crucial with the Covid-19 pandemic, when in-person visits have become less popular.

Biosensors are constantly improving, with smartwatches even able to perform an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG as it is known in the United States) now. — ReutersBiosensors are constantly improving, with smartwatches even able to perform an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG as it is known in the United States) now. — Reuters

Effective virtual consultation

The annual Hand Phone Users Survey by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) showed that 78% of Malaysians used a smartphone in 2018 – a distinct rise from 14% in 2010 when the use of smartphones was first covered in the survey.

As we move forward in this technology-driven era, there is no doubt that mobile phones are increasingly becoming essential in our lives.

The multiple functions of a mobile device essentially accelerated the development of telemedicine, which can help facilitate communication between patients and doctors.

With telemedicine, patients do not need to travel to the hospital or clinic as they can talk to their doctors remotely.

This is especially beneficial for those who live far from the nearest hospital or specialist who can manage their condition.

Moreover, the reduced frequency of walk-in patients may help doctors better manage their schedule, as well as reduce their exposure to infectious disease.

The use of telemedicine as a tool to communicate with patients and to discuss their diagnosis has been shown by a study to be effective.

In this study, patients suffering from diabetes mellitus were segregated into two groups.

In one group, the patients were given a smartphone-based telemedicine system for treatment and consultancy.

In the other group, patients received usual outpatient treatment.

Interestingly, patients from the telemedicine group demonstrated a better recovery rate as they received more effective treatment.

Telemedicine is not uncommon in Malaysia as it has been well-accepted by several hospitals, including Hospital Selayang and Hospital Sungai Buloh (both in Selangor), Hospital Kuala Lumpur and Hospital Putrajaya.

Moreover, a 2015 study showed that the use of smartphones improved communication between all the staff members in the neurosurgical department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Telemedicine has also proven to be essential when addressing issues related to mental health.

Since the implementation of the movement control order (MCO) in March, the country has seen a rise in people worried about their mental health.

Currently, the rate of depression in Malaysia stands at 8-12%, according to a 2014 review of studies published in The Medical Journal of Malaysia.

According to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS), every three in 10 adults aged 16 years and above in Malaysia suffers from some form of mental health issue.

In addition, many are feeling anxious about the Covid-19 pandemic, as the situation does not appear to be improving.

A good way forward to seek mental health services is through a reliable online platform, where patients can communicate with trained general practitioners (GPs), who can refer them to psychologists or psychiatrists as necessary.

By doing so, people can relate their symptoms and receive advice from a doctor remotely.

There are an increasing number of health-related apps out there, including this one that helps you calculate your stroke risk. — FilepicThere are an increasing number of health-related apps out there, including this one that helps you calculate your stroke risk. — Filepic

Apps for health

With the integration of applications (apps) into mobile devices, users are given the opportunity to better manage their health with ease.

An example of a medical app is the medical calculator.

Medical calculators are designed to help users calculate the severity of their condition, e.g. liver disease and the risk of getting a pulmonary embolism.

A review of some of these apps showed that they were 98% accurate, but that a universal system should be implemented to verify these calculators as medical devices.

Researchers from the United States have also developed an app called Bingocize to help users improve their cognitive ability.

As the name suggests, this essentially encompasses the game of Bingo.

In a pilot study conducted to examine its efficacy, these researchers showed that Bingocize improved functional performance of the participants by 53%.

Recently, a patient-reporting app known as CancerAid was developed.

This app allows cancer patients to track their symptoms and store their diagnostic information in one place.

Patients can also connect with other patients going through similar experiences through this app.

Biosensors integrated into smartphones and smartwatches are also becoming increasingly commonplace.

For example, a recent technology that monitors and measures heart rate might help alert a person to relax when their heart rate hits a certain level.

Regardless of the type of system or app used for health management, it has been shown that these apps have a positive impact on health-related behaviours and clinical health outcomes.

Security concerns

It is important though to acknowledge one of the main caveats in cloud technology: data protection.

Recently, the BBC news service reported that SingHealth, which owns Singapore’s largest group of healthcare institutions, was hacked between June 27 and July 4, resulting in up to 1.5 million personal data being compromised.

It was also recently reported that the security of Zoom video recordings was compromised, resulting in data exposure.

This is why it is important for programme developers to adhere to strict policies when creating mobile medical apps.

With the increase in volume of patient data, the era of mobile health also calls for extensive collaboration with experts in cybersecurity.

It is undeniable that the advent of technology has improved the way one manages health information.

Moreover, the number of millennials and Generation Z is increasing and they are more likely to rely on mobile devices for their activities.

Therefore, despite the risk of using cloud technology, mobile health is likely to play a key role in the future for better health management.

Dr Tan Ju Lin is a molecular biologist, science communicator and founder of Jom Science, Malaysia, and Drona Dewi is a biotechnologist and wellness trainer. For more information, email The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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Healthcare , apps , telemedicine


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