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A Health Care Call to Action for Men: Is There an App for That?

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As an active member of the 100 Black Men of America (an organization committed to promoting healthy living and community outreach, amongst other things) and on the heels of our organization's national conference, I wanted to send a message to men about the importance of improving our physical and mental health. June is National Men's Health Month and I believe we have an individual and collective duty to strive to improve the health and well-being of the men in our communities. One way for us to do this more efficiently is by taking advantage of the mobile platforms that are making health care more accessible and giving us tools to better manage our health.

According to the latest edition of "The Black Man's Guide to Good Health," black men live 7.1 years less than men in other racial groups. That same study found that black men are also 2.4 times as likely to die from prostate cancer and are twice as likely as white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes. These are grim statistics, but we currently have some of the tools necessary to mitigate some of these alarming trends.

To improve the health of black men, we must ensure that: 1) They have affordable access to health care; 2) they become more knowledgeable and educated about the resources at their disposal to better care for themselves; and 3) we work, as a community, towards changing attitudes and priorities so that men take a more proactive and preventative approach to their individual health care.

"MHealth" (the term used for the practice of medicine and public health which is supported by mobile devices), mobile health initiatives and applications have the potential to build a bridge to better health care for all communities. Innovative wireless technologies provide new and more substantive opportunities for better health and better health education than ever before. Smartphones and the apps available on them provide access to medical information and health tracking, all while allowing us to maintain a life on the go. For example, with respect to diabetes, smartphone apps can log blood glucose readings, exercise, insulin and nutrition. These apps can show patterns and trends, and they can automatically email data to health care professionals. Recently, a wireless glucose meter was approved by the Federal Drug Administration that sends text message alerts to parents regarding the blood sugar levels of their children.

But smartphones and data-intensive apps use a resource controlled by the government -- spectrum, the airwaves that transmit this vital health data (along with other mobile broadband use). Right now, only a small amount of spectrum is allocated by the government for consumer mobile use, such as is used for MHealth technologies. As more consumers log on to mobile networks and as more data is transmitted, the high-speed wireless data lanes become constrained. This makes it even more important to consumer health to have the spectrum needed to operate these apps.

Men today have more options than ever to improve their health, and mobile health solutions add another valuable weapon to their arsenal. Numerous smartphone apps track exercise activities and provide encouragement along the way. Mobihealthnews predicts there will be 13,000 health apps this summer for the iPhone alone.

As we consider public policies that encourage better health, we should ensure that access to advanced mobile networks is at the top of the list. Government needs to make sure more Spectrum is allocated and available to meet consumer demand for mobile applications and that the right policies are in place to provide incentives to the private sector to build out the networks needed to support this additional spectrum for consumers. We need a healthy wireless infrastructure and healthy pro-marketplace governmental policies to ensure a healthy country. That is good not just for men, but for this country and for our economy.

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