Medical Apps on prescription?

Posted on May 12, 2015 by Ronny Garcia

Health Apps are flooding the market; you might have tried one for personal fitness, diet or an allergy warning for pollen forecast. But what is your experience with Medical Apps?

Are they really getting patients more involved? We are talking about mobile apps that support patients on medical matters – for example to detect possible illnesses at early stages, to help people live a health-improving lifestyle or to facilitate a chronic disease patient’s life. This includes diagnosis apps or for instance apps for diabetes patients which record data like blood sugar levels or blood pressure, and monitor personal diet and physical exercise which can later be shared with the doctor. These apps also remind patients in a preventative way to check their blood sugar levels and take medicine.

Following a survey of 1500 physicians in the United States, 37% have already prescribed a mobile medical app to their patients. In addition, in the UK the NHS already tries to get patients more involved by encouraging apps – and this use also results in reduced visits to doctors. However the majority of doctors remain unconvinced and would not prescribe apps because of lack of regulatory oversight and non-existing longitudinal data of apps' effectiveness. They are also aware of the likely overwhelming amount of data patients would submit. However, tendencies clearly show that more and more patients are “self-tracking” and would like to access their patient files electronically. Almost half of the over 60 year olds regularly use the internet, of which one in three record blood pressure and weight (38%), one in six people log physical exercise (15%)  and one out of 10 document their symptoms (9%). Patients seem to be ready to use medical apps but until now they come with risks. Authoritative regulations and controls are not yet in place and most apps do not comply with approved standards for medical devices such as the CE mark. Further, issues regarding liability and remuneration impede online communication between patients and doctors.  

Nevertheless, a lot of apps are useful especially when they relate to prevention aspects - for example regarding vaccination. Though it is recommended to be aware of data security and to be sure which data is shared with whom. Evaluations and recommendations by independent third parties who assess the range of benefits and restrictions of each app should help choosing the right app for you. In the end it’s all about you: be involved and active regarding your health – all the better if an app can help you in doing so!

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