Health Care? Yep, There Ought To Be An App For That

January 26, 2011

With Apple already having achieved its 10 billionth iPhone  app download, there is sufficient reason to think the age of the app has reached critical mass. What about health care-oriented apps? What can be considered “the best” from the pack? What is still missing from the app menu in medical offerings? Those questions were at the center of the Health Care and Social Media (HCSM) chat group discussion on Twitter on Jan 23rd. To see the full transcript, go to  A summary of the group’s consensus is featured below, along with suggestions from my blogging mates on what more is needed on the app landscape  for patients, physicians and health care providers.

Given the patient-centered focus of HCSM chats, it came as no surprise that most members agreed that the best apps are those that affect the practical lives of patients, or as @DaphneLeigh colorfully put it, “[The app] Obviously has to be relevant and friggin’ user-friendly.” For added rigor, @MarksPhone stated, “a good app is one that aids the patient in participating in their health care effectively.”

When the HCSM group was quizzed on their recommended apps that fit that criteria, they offered the following descriptions:

For Patients/Consumers

  • apps that build in a social network (e.g. @FitBit or Zeo)
  • apps that monitor mood (e.g. Mood Journal)
  • apps that track migraine activity (e.g. iManage Migraine)
  • apps that log diet and exercise (e.g. Calorie Tracker by LIVESTRONG.COM)
  • apps that help patients find clinical trials or learn about the clinical study process (e.g. cTrust  and A Guide to Clinical Trials)

For Physicians/Health Care Providers

  • apps for special dietary needs (e.g. Is That Gluten Free? by Midlife Crisis Apps)
  • apps that help with drug guidance (e.g. Epocrates)
  • app that writes prescriptions and faxes or emails the pharmacy (e.g. RxWriter)
  • apps that convey imaging data that can be used in the office and the operating room (e.g. Osirix is an open-source digital imaging viewer; iPad viewing is made easier when transferring files into Dropbox and opening them from that app)
  • app that helps clinical sites find patients for diabetes study outreach (e.g. MyOutreach)
  • app that offers medical calculators, surgery checklists, pregnancy wheel (e.g. Calculate)
  • app that offers reviews by medical students of medical apps (e.g. iMedicalApps)

As for missing gaps in apps, the HCSM community noted several chasms across all therapeutic areas, noted below:

Wish list For Patients/Consumers

  • an app that helps the users find medical apps as a one-stop shop

@GailZahtz affirmed this by claiming  a European study found nearly all apps that patients requested are already built, but can’t be easily located. In an effort to create a public space where reviews of medical apps are offered by users, @Scrubdin has built a website to gather these opinions at Scrubdin.

However, resistance to adoption cannot entirely be attributed to difficulty in finding apps. In a study by the European Commission’s Information Society and Media, it determined that reluctance to adopt telemedicine services is based on a lack of confidence in securing private data (see Telemedicine for the benefit of Patients, Healthcare Systems and Society, June 2009,

  • seamless integration of mobile apps into electronic medical record (EMR) and electronic health record (EHR) for improved clinical efficiency and accuracy
  • apps that tackle small steps (e.g. offering tips) before increasing complexity (e.g. logging calories into diary)
  • apps that provide reminders (e.g. physical exam alerts, lab result alerts to prompt phone calls, medication reminders)
  • apps that measure a user’s learning
  • apps that improve outcomes by taking metrics from current user data to forecast new goals

Wish List For Physicians/Health Care Providers

  • apps that assist with diagnosis and  treatment (e.g. risk assessments, reminders, recommended preventative care, apps, assessing AAP/CDC/ACIP vaccination records)
  • apps that support the new resident work rule obligations (i.e. with limited work shifts, there will many more medical professionals involved in the care of a patient, so apps that better inform and safeguard patient care are welcome)
  • apps that assist in caring for infrequently presenting patient population (e.g. occasional pediatric patient visits could be assisted with PediSTAT for weight-based medical dosing)
  • apps (for the iPhone) that can “bump” (share) information from the health provider to the patient and vice versa regarding discharge instructions, education, etc.
  • app that acts like Shazam! for pills (i.e. allows your phone to snap a photo of the medication and instantly receive information identifying it; presently the NIH is developing this)
  • app that  assists with pre-operative or procedural directions, with a checklist that once completed is sent to the doctor or hospital

In comparing the list of what is used vs. the wish list of apps-to-be, the promise of mobile apps is yet to be fully realized.  It is obvious there is a need for apps that help patients improve their health and well-being, without complicating their lives while respecting their privacy. Yep, there ought to be more apps for that.

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