Mobile Health Apps Bridge Doctor-Patient Divide

Among the top-rated iPhone and Android apps, according to healthline.com, are programs that allow users to track the distance they walked or biked for the day, keep a personalized log of prescription drugs and relevant medical information, record recurring symptoms, and even monitor their sleep cycles, so a programmed alarm clock will go off when the users are at their lightest sleep period and ready to be awakened. Recent reports have indicated that these apps are not just being used by consumers, but are also being touted by physicians as tools used in patient treatment. As the “convergence of medical and consumer apps” becomes more apparent, newer, more highly-functioning apps are expected, yet, will those apps overload our collective hard drive and prove to be more hassle than helpful?

Convergence

A techonomy.com article explored the notion of the converging paths of medical and consumer health apps, stating that recent reports have shown that, “in the future, experts see the integration of consumer apps and devices into ‘a comprehensive healthcare and wellness information system,’ that could enable medical professional to help patients manage their health…” Specifically, the piece mentions the use of mobile apps at the cardiac rehabilitation program at the Mayo Clinic of evidence that, as one expert stated, “physicians are embracing the trend.” Additionally, four large app-building projects are underway at the Center for Digital Health Innovation at the University of California, San Francisco that would, if turned into products, be available to consumers to collaborate with physicians on health issues.

Recipe for Disaster?

While some are optimistic about the future of professional- and consumer-based usage of apps, others have raised questions about the future mobile app industry’s propensity for unwieldiness. In particular, an expert opined that the massive amounts and breadth of data that could be collected by these apps could present a regulatory nightmare while another claimed that “too much data could stifle physician productivity.”

On the Horizon

Regardless of the potential issues raised by the merging of mobile apps for consumers and physicians, it appears that innovation is already pointing in that direction, as one analysis finds that health care management apps are following in the footsteps of (and working in conjunction with) wearable fitness tracking devices. The report acknowledges certain apps that are “worth a look” including: Samsung S Health, which allows the consumer to track nutrition, fitness, and wellness; WebMD Healthy Target, which was designed as a tool for diabetics, hypoglycemic individuals, and those struggling with obesity to monitor weight and blood sugar; and Apple Health, which “displays personal biometric data- heart rate, calories consumers and burned, blood sugar and cholesterol – from the fitness apps that actually collect the data and from devices such as JawBone and IBGStar Blood Glucose Meter.”

An article published on the online Business Insider, however, states that while the new innovations in health care apps are popular, they are not necessarily effective. That source refers to a 2013 report issued by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics that found “most consumer-oriented health apps are severely lacking when it comes to functionality or what they actually allow users to do.” Indeed, “…increased usage doesn’t necessarily correlate with quality.” Specifically, the author of this piece points out that while these health care supporting apps are plentiful, their functionality is limited. In turn, the source predicts, the real revolution is not in the convergence of consumer and medical professional usage of health apps but in the merging of wearable trackers that also function, as apps do, to compile and analyze tracked data. “The real killer app probably won’t be an app at all. It will be whatever device successfully combines the limited functionality that so many apps have into an integrated platform that can actually change people’s health and habits in a holistic way.”

This proposition begs the question, will these combined function devices take over the health care app game? If so, will these devices face similar regulatory and data administration and use challenges that health care apps potentially face? Regardless of the direction of this industry, the bridge between patient care by medical professionals, consumerism, and technology has been forged and consideration of its implications must be undertaken in order to cross it.