What is the definition of an app and how is it different to software?

An app is a small software program. The word ‘app’ is short for the term ‘application’. The full-length word ‘application’ is generally used when referring to a software program you would find on your desktop computer, such as Microsoft Word, MYOB or Outlook. The shortened version – app – is normally used to refer to a software program that is quite specific in its purpose and is found on your smartphone or tablet. Software programs found online, such as Google Calendar, can also be referred to as apps.

How long have they been around?

Apps have been around, in a rudimentary form, since 1997. However, they only burst onto the mobile phone scene in their current visual format (square icons) with the introduction of the iPhone and its touch screen and intuitive design, in January 2007. If you have an iPhone or other ‘smartphone’, you would have bought it with apps already installed. Some you may already be familiar with are:

  • A clock app that enables you to set an alarm
  • A weather app that checks the weather forecast in your city and beyond
  • An email app that allows you to send and receive emails.

How can I access an app?

As mentioned, your smartphone or tablet will already come with some apps installed, but if you wish to install additional apps onto your device, then you would access them from the app stores. The type of device you own will dictate which store you will need to access the app from. For an iPhone this would be the Apple App Store and for Android Phones such as Samsung, you would access the apps from Google Play. Your device will already come with an app for the app store required by your phone already installed. Just click on the icon to open the store. You may need to create an account if you haven’t already done so.

How much does an app cost?

Some apps are free, whilst other have a one-off fee or a subscription (i.e. annual or monthly fee). They can vary in price from 99 cents to many dollars. Apps on the Apple App Store tend to be a bit more expensive than on Google Play.

If the app is a paid app, you may also have to purchase the app for each different device, i.e. smartphone and table. This is not always the case.

What apps are already available for health care?

There is a plethora of general fitness and diet apps out in the app world, but if looking for something more specific in relation to healthcare, some of these are not so easy to come by.

I am not talking about apps such as patient management systems that are utilised by healthcare organisations (e.g. hospitals), but the apps a healthcare professional can use personally to improve what they do, or to recommend to patients. Below I have listed a few ideas that you could search for.

Healthcare professional use:

  • Drug calculators
  • Medication reference, i.e. MIMS
  • Dictionary – Nursing, Allied Health
  • Palliative Care
  • CPR

Patient use:

  • Medication reminder
  • Asthma management
  • Diabetic recipe book
  • Pain Management, i.e. Beatpain
  • First aid

This is by no means exhaustive, it is just a teaser to get you going. In the search section of the app store try typing in what interests you and see what appears. If there is nothing, then you might like to consider creating it.


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