There are now over 13,000 health, fitness, and medical apps available. In a previous post I discussed “Five creative and necessary ways of getting medical apps adopted.” Specifically they were incorporating medical apps in informatics, utilization in schools for health education, government initiatives regarding digital technologies, medical apps in EHR clinical decision support tools, and patient portals. These however do not necessarily lead to adoption of these apps. Some of these are years away. But the industry is rapidly maturing and here are some ways in which it has or heading towards.
1. Credibility is coming. The FDA has finally been given a go-ahead by Congress to move forward with its regulatory requirements for medical apps. Happtique will be initiating an app certification program in the Fall after having announced its draft standards. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is evaluating the efficacy of medical apps. All these initiatives are aimed at differentiating quality and effective apps. Healthcare providers, patients, and payers all are interested in adopting medical apps into their care models, but are clamoring for guidance. Hopefully these endeavors will provide that support.
2. The distinction between consumer apps and medical apps is evolving. The vast majority of apps in the health, fitness, and medical sector of apps fall into consumer health and fitness categories. Curating and categorizing apps has been helpful, however making the distinction between consumer-oriented and medical apps is, I believe, a crucial step in moving towards adoption of medical apps. This is not to say that wellness and fitness apps are not useful or usable by patients with diseases. Their clinical scopes of purpose and target users are different. The distinction by designation would facilitate use,
3. The development of medical apps for specifically for children is important. Patient engagement is an integral part of existing medical apps used by adolescents for diabetes. Apps aimed at children with other more severe diseases where medication adherence has greater implications are needed. The gamification and incentives are critical elements of such apps. A cursory search on Amazon.com Fisher-Price has at least three different model toy cell phones for infants including simulated smart phones. There are many other companies in the mix as well. Children are given smart phones with games as mental pacifiers much the way television was for baby boomer children. Can we develop effective apps for even these patients? Having effective apps for children and adolescents can result in a new generation of patient which is both connected and medical app-ready.
4. Medical apps will be to healthcare what ATMs are to banking. Mobility is king. People no longer desire nor are able to be tethered to desks or PCs. The days of waiting hours or days for a physician, insurer, or pharmacy to return a call are over. There are apps for that. Moreover, apps connect patients to providers seamlessly via sensors, cloud-based data sent bidirectionally, social media and messaging. Patient education, physician and other provider education, healthcare operations, and other stakeholder support and communications are all available via apps. When one needs banking services, the immediate thought is “Where is the nearest ATM?” This occurs worldwide. Medical apps can be the go-to resource for healthcare in the same regard. We need apps, however, which engage and keep patients going back to them. THIS is the key. ATMs succeeded because they deliver what we expect. The same expectations are necessary to meet by medical apps.
5. Payers and Pharma are buying into the concept. Critical stakeholders like payers and the pharmaceutical industry are realizing the potential for medical apps. They know that this is where their customers and users are. They realize that the usual customer service business model is neither as effective nor cost-effective as an app is. The data which can be mined from apps is more direct, accurate, and valuable than traditional methods.
It is therefore not unreasonable to imagine health and medical apps as critical bricks in the healthcare building of the future. While not necessarily the foundation, they will become utilities without which the edifice would be far less functional.