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Report on Mobile Health Apps

By November 1, 2013Commentary

Helping consumers and providers have more accurate and faster access to more comprehensive information related to health and health care has long been a tactic believed to aid in improving quality and lowering overall spending.  The rapid uptake of smartphones and tablets has spurred intense interest in development of mobile applications to accomplish this access to information.  The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics has released a report discussing the current state of health care apps, both mobile and personal computer-based.    (IMS Report)   The authors look at the 40,000 or so health care applications in the Apple iTunes store, probably the single largest repository of such apps.   The vast majority of these are relatively simple diet and exercise apps and do little more than provide information.  The researchers considered a little more than half to be real health care apps, and of those about 7400 were oriented to professionals and 16,000 to consumers.  Only 5 apps in the store account for 15% of all downloads.  There is little information on how much consumers actually use downloaded apps and how useful they find them.  It is also unclear the extent to which apps can actually improve health outcomes or lower costs, which is a factor in provider reluctance to get involved in recommending them for patients.  It is conceivable that health apps may actually disrupt patient care and interfere with effective coordination.  Providers are also understandably leery about apps which purport to rank quality or give price transparency.  And for many patients, even those who are relatively tech-savvy, the vast number of apps has to be a bit bewildering.  Patient engagement is a highly laudable goal, but to date, many users of wellness-oriented apps are in the healthiest cohort of consumers.  The patients who have high annual spending often have mental conditions which may inhibit their appreciation of health care apps, and other factors limit their use of them.  As the title of this blog suggests, we are pretty skeptical that health care apps will ever make a really meaningful difference, but they can be helpful to some consumers and they can’t do much harm.

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