Happy Father’s day! If you’ve got your dad a smartphone, or another hi-tech gadget, then this blog is perfect for you! Prof Ammar Al-Chalabi is a Professor of Neurology and Complex Disease Genetics at King’s College London. He is also Director of the King’s MND Care and Research Centre in London. Here he blogs about his Association-funded research into the development of a smart phone app for MND.
A new trial is about to launch to see if a smartphone app can help people with MND. What does it do and how could it be useful?
People with motor neuron disease who have breathing difficulty may end up going to their local A&E department. You might think “Great! Hospital is the safest place to be!”, but it is very common for a stressed, busy, junior A&E doctor to automatically think, “Breathless patient – better give oxygen”. For most breathless people that is exactly right. But if you have MND, more often than not, it is bad news because it makes your brain believe it has all the oxygen it needs so there is no longer any reason to breathe.
To try to tackle this important problem, researchers at King’s College London have teamed up with doctors at King’s College Hospital and programmers from HW Communications Ltd, a company based in Lancashire, to develop a smartphone app that can alert the neurology team automatically when someone turns up in A&E. This means the neurology team can provide specialist advice early on, which should improve things, like avoiding unnecessary admission and reminding the doctors to think about whether oxygen is really the right thing to give.
What else can the smartphone app do?
Smartphones can do lots of things with their built-in sensors. They can record a voice, detect the speed of a movement, and detect how much someone is moving around. All this is useful information for doctors, physios and speech and language therapists, who otherwise only have a snapshot of how much someone is affected when they come to clinic. It also means medical researchers can understand in more detail how MND affects people on a day-to-day basis.
Why is this a trial? Why can’t I just get the app now?
You would have to carry a smartphone around all the time, not mind that it is recording how much you are moving around, and not care that it is going to prompt you every so often to do something like pick it up or record a message. The app can only be made to run on Android phones, so if you use an iPhone you would need a second phone. In any case, we need to know that the app does what it is supposed to do and that it helps.
Is this just for MND?
The idea behind the app means it would be useful for many other diseases, especially where the condition is more easily dealt with by a specialist than an A&E doctor. The MND trial starts soon!