State health agencies take the plunge with their own mobile apps

Public health departments in the United States are starting to get on the mobile healthcare bandwagon by developing their own apps, according to an article in Time.

Alabama is the first state to develop a public health app. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) launched its mobile app to make it easier for the public to access health information. The app connects all ADPH social media accounts--Facebook, Twitter and YouTube--in one place. 

"Normally Alabama comes in last when it comes to health indicators, but we were one of the first states to be on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube. This is just another goal for us," Jennifer Pratt Sumner, director of ADPH's digital media branch, told Time.

In addition to news releases, the ADPH app connects the user to notices, events and messages from the state health officer, Alabama Public Health Training Network messages, and program information. The app, which requires Android 2.2 or later and iPhone iOS5 or later on mobile devices such as smart phones and iPads, is available for downloading at no charge from Google Play or iTunes.

In August, New York City's health department released CalCutter, an app for restaurant chefs and people cooking at home. The app allows users to enter in recipes and the number of servings they need to get an estimated calorie count. Users can also ask the app to convert the dish to a lower-calorie version, with ingredients that are lighter, or make it more nutritious.

CalCutter is the fourth app the New York City health department has launched over the last two years. The others include ABCEats, which allows users to access detailed inspection reports and letter grades for the city's 24,000 restaurants. NYC Condom informs residents where free condoms are distributed close to their current location. And Teens in NYC lets users search for city clinics that provide sexual health services for young people.

"While it may be too early to tell whether Alabama or New York City's apps actually change people's behavior and result in healthier citizens, you can bet that public health agencies nationwide will be watching closely to see if they do," writes author Alexandra Sifferlin in TIME.

Sifferlin says that so far the New York City apps are generating a "respectable" number of downloads. 

"CalCutter, which launched on August 21, has 1,449 downloads on Android so far (numbers are not yet available for iOS)," she writes. "By comparison, NYC Condom and ABC Eats have a total of over 33,500 downloads each so far. New York City has a population of over 8.2 million, so the apps haven't quite caught on, but since they cater to specific populations, city health officials are confident the outreach is working."

In related news, Video Directly Observed Therapy (VDOT) allows tuberculosis patients to video record themselves taking their daily medications on smartphones and send the videos to health departments, which monitor and document each dose of medication remotely. VDOT is currently being used by the San Diego County TB Control Program and health departments in San Francisco and New York City will soon begin using the new system. 

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