Considering that it seems as if everyone, regardless of age, is obsessed with their smartphones and tablets nowadays, it makes perfect sense that the healthcare industry would take part in that trend.
The widespread production and utilization of health related apps has been responsible for opening new and innovative ways to improve health as well as the delivery of healthcare, although the accuracy of these apps, along with their usefulness, is a highly debated topic in the industry. It is estimated that almost 500 million smartphone owners across the globe are currently using mobile healthcare applications and those numbers are expected to grow astronomically over the next few years. These apps are used for various purposes, including diagnostics, image viewing and remote monitors.
In addition, a series of surveys performed by Kantar Media reveals that about 84% of physicians now use smartphones for work, which is up from approximately 39% in 2007. Research performed by Google via their popular Play Store, indicates that health and fitness apps were the fastest growing app category in 2014, and that craze has continued to pick up steam in 2015. It has also been estimated in a paper published in the mHealth app development industry that there are over 100,000 mobile health apps that can be accessed by Android and iOS devices. Additionally, the report states that the global health and fitness mobile app market is currently valued at around $4 billion with indications that it could increase to approximately $26 billion by 2017.
Several of these healthcare apps are created for use bey doctors. These apps vary from simple databases about drugs and diseases to elaborate monitors that can scan things such as blood pressure, asthma symptoms and glucose levels. There are also numerous apps available for patients that allow them to gather diagnostic data for their doctor. Additionally, some apps are made specifically for patients just to help simplify the record keeping process of their conditions and treatments. According to a report released by American EHR Partners, which is affiliated with the American College of Physicians, the top rated medical app amongst physicians is Epocrates.
This app enables physicians to review drug prescribing and safety information, select health insurance formularies for drug coverage information, perform calculations like BMI and GFR and access medical news and research. Another highly regarded app in the field is Medscape, which is a unit of WebMD that offers prescribing and safety information for drugs, procedure videos, a medical calculator and access to continuing medical education materials. Although the use of health related apps has done a lot in helping patients to become more proactive in their own healthcare as well as assisting their doctors in caring for them, there is still a long way to go in making them as efficient and advantageous as they can eventually become. A report authored by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics suggests that there is much room for improvement in the development and distribution of apps that truly enable healthcare providers to assist patients with managing their medical conditions. One of the drawbacks in the increasing creation and customization of apps for specific needs is that many of them do not conform to systems used at hospitals and clinics.
Considering that healthcare facilities use various systems in the recording of electronic health records, a particular app that doctors utilize to share records within one system may not translate to another. The success of a clinical app hinges on how adequately it can be linked to a larger system, and at this point in time there are not many of them that have that ability. With the increasing development of health related apps, there is also a lot more scrutiny involved in the industry. One obstacle that numerous app developers now face is the Food and Drug Administration. While the FDA supports the creation of mobile medical apps that enhance healthcare and supply consumers and healthcare professionals with valuable health information, it is also responsible for supervising the safety and effectiveness of medical devices, which includes mobile medical apps. The success of a clinical app hinges on how adequately it can be linked to a larger system, and at this point in time there are not many of them that have that ability. In September of 2013, the FDA issued the Mobile Medical Applications Guidance for Industry and Food and Drug Administration Staff (updated on Feb. 9, 2015) which is a document that describes the agency’s supervi sion of mobile medical apps as devices. The document explains that they are focused on the apps that present a greater risk to patients if they do not work as expected as well as on apps that cause smartphones or other mobile platforms to impact the functionality or performance of traditional medical devices. Sagentia, a global technology advisory and product development company headquartered in Cambridge, UK believes that companies developing these mobile medica apps need to take the process seriously. According to David Pettigrew, Sagentia’s Vice President of Connected Health, “MMA’s should be treated like any other medical device. Risk analysis is key, and careful system design will ensure that safety critical functions are implemented appropriately.” Despite the fact that the creation of mobile medical apps is a booming industry that can lead to major profit for its developers, the architects of such applications have a great responsibility to ensure the safety and accuracy of their product as well as its users. This is not an endeavor to be taken up halfheartedly, strictly for the sake of entertainment or financial gain, as it involves the health of the consumers. On the other hand, if done properly, these advances in technology could turn out to be extremely beneficial to physicians and patients as well as the future of healthcare in general.