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Mobile Health Apps

By September 21, 2015Commentary

I apologize for the joy I take in seeing hyped developments fall flat and I know I over-emphasize the negative.  Mea culpa.  But who can resist the low-hanging fruit.  And such easy targets, like mobile and non-mobile health apps are going to transform health care.  The Institute for Healthcare Informatics at IMS issues a report on mobile health apps, suggesting caution.  (IMS Report)  According to the report there are over 165,000 health apps available to consumers, who undoubtedly are fully capable of assessing the value of each and selecting those that work best for them. The majority of these apps relate to wellness functions, tracking diet, exercise, sleep, etc.  About a fourth focus on disease or care management, with a surprisingly large number being directed toward mental health conditions.  According to the authors over half of all these apps have what they define as limited functionality.  About 10% can connect to a device or sensor to provide health-related data and 65% connect to social media, which must really improve their ability to impact health status and outcomes.  Oh, and here’s a great stat, only 2% connect or communicate with providers, but who cares if their clinicians can access health-related information, or maybe this tells you something about clinicians’ views on the utility and value of the data generated from these mobile health apps.  On the other hand, over a third of doctors say they have recommended a health app to patients.  In reality, only a very small number of mobile apps are actually downloaded with any frequency and even fewer get use from a consumer for more than a month.  They appear to be largely viewed as pretty gadgets, and generally free ones, that get looked at and then put on the shelf and forgotten.  Research on the use and value of mobile apps is just beginning, and there are signs of potential value, but the use in a study is not like real world use by most consumers.  It certainly is possible that an app could help consumers manage their health–exercise appropriately and eat well; and that they could provide useful help in managing a disease like diabetes or high blood pressure.  It is not clear that this is actually happening in any widespread manner and there is no clear guidance on what will encourage consumers and patients to use these tools productively.  A well-written report that highlights the gap between hype and reality.

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