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Guest blogger Nancy Finn reports on the popularity of health apps. She is the author of e-Patients Live Longer.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a national telephone survey of 2,277 adults in May 2011 and found that 83% own some kind of cell phone. One-third of these cell phone users (35%) own a smartphone (eg, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm). These smartphone users utilize their mobile devices in new ways, incorporating them into their lives, accessing the Internet, sending photos and videos to others, using Twitter, and engaging in video calls and chats.

Many of these smartphone owners have also downloaded one or more of the 17,000 health care apps currently available. Twenty-five percent of these apps are free. Research2Guidance, a consulting firm, predicts that as many as 500 million people will be using healthcare mobile apps by 2015. Assuming that this prediction is correct, it means that people resonate to owning smartphones and empowering themselves as healthcare consumers with these interactive apps. Among the individuals polled for this research, 33% indicated that they want to manage their health records online and 32% said they want to have telehealth visits with their doctors.

Another study, by the Consumer Electronics Association, polled patients on their willingness to communicate with their providers using a smartphone or tablet. The study, The New Role of Technology in Consumer Health and Wellness, found that 36% of consumers say they want to be able to send information to their doctor wirelessly; 33% want to manage their health records online; and 32% want to have telehealth visits with their doctors for remotely based procedures and surgeries such as angiograms, head scans, CT scans, and skin cancer examinations.

Right now, consumers indicate that their favorite smartphone applications include: body weight scales, vital sign meters and gauges, devices that record and track fitness programs, and nutrition. Some of the newest popular apps are Cancer.Net Mobile for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, which patients can use to manage their cancer treatments (this app covers 120 cancer types); AsthmaMD, which is used to record asthma attacks, track medications and note triggers; Pocket First Aid, which provides education and instructions on CPR, choking, burns, and diabetic emergencies. It can also track family medical information, and emergency contacts. There are apps for testing vision; apps that provide clinical data and check medication interactions, and apps that provide explanations of medical terms.

More than any other single device or tool, the smartphone with its audio, video, built in cameras, and access to the internet right at your fingertips, has the capability to help patients take charge of health issues, engage more effectively with providers, and become educated, empowered, and interactive in healthcare. So power up. Doing so could save your life.