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Rise of "prescription apps"

by Loren Bonner , DOTmed News Online Editor
Given the rise of mobile health apps available on smartphones and tablets these days, point of care service has been moving from the clinical setting to the patient's home — or really anywhere the patient wants to be.

But given the rise of mobile health apps available to consumers today, advocates are realizing that providers play a critical role in driving the success of these mobile apps for their patients.

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"The office visit as a time when the clinician can help drive the adoption of these technologies seems to be a big trend in 2012, and a likely thing that will happen now and in the future," said Brian Dolan, co-founder of MobiHealthNews, during a presentation at the third annual mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. this week.

Geisinger Health System's director of eHealth agreed with this movement and said they get more compliance with patients when doctors are involved in instructing patients about a mobile health app during a face-to-face visit.

Dolan divides growing mobile health apps — which all focus on engaging with patients — into two categories: "Swivel apps," found on a physician's device (which is typically an iPad these days, he said) and can be shown to the patient to help them understand what's going on with them physically. "Maybe it's an anatomy app that helps explain in a visually appealing way what's going on in the patient's body, the surgery they will have or a condition," he said.

Another growing group of applications are "prescription apps." Dolan said these are not just apps that patients use in the room with their physician, but ones that are recommended to the patient by the doctor to use for managing their care.

Looking at the past 4 years he said that physicians are taking a more prominent role in directing patients to apps, and actually prescribing them, whereas in the past, apps were looked at as more consumer-driven.

This seems to contradict findings that show most doctors are reluctant to embrace mobile technology, however. A recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that only 27 percent of physicians encourage patients to use mobile health applications and become active in managing their health, 13 percent even discourage it.

Dr. Hon Pak, CEO of Diversinet Corp., which provides HIPAA-compliant mobile health care applications, said engaging with patients is a challenge for health care today — with or without mobile health care.

"I'm seeing from the health care community that we know little about engaging patients. We are at the beginning of this journey," he said.

Mobile health apps might be one way of getting there.

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