Take Two Apps and Call Me in the Morning

Will doctors recommend health apps to patients? There has been an explosion in health apps. Patients are using them for weight loss, calorie counting, exercise monitoring, ovulation calculation and for many other health needs. But to truly integrate the concept of health apps in the health care system healthcare providers will need to get involved. There is discussion in the health IT world lately regarding physician adoption of technology specifically mobile health apps, electronic record systems and patient portals. Doctors have now been plugged into the equation for technological innovation. This represents a paradigm shift for doctors. Life was much simpler when all we had was a pager and a stethoscope.

On the other hand, incorporating new innovation is nothing new for doctors. Physicians are constantly exposed to innovation. We are approached with new medications, new surgical devices, new equipment and new lab tests. Frequently, doctors are pitched a new product and have to decide whether to integrate it into practice or to pass for now. With medications, medical devices and lab tests the decision to accept and adopt is complex. It involves analyzing safety, efficacy, cost and other factors.

Some physicians have the early adopter mentality. At home, we are the first to buy the latest iPhone (even though our current one works fine). We also rush out and buy a 3D television (much to the annoyance of our spouses). Early adopters are the first to try a new surgical technique. Other physicians are more likely to wait and view the success or failures of the early adopters before deciding to jump in.

In many ways physicians are already leading the way in mobile health. The majority of doctors are using smart phone and physicians are early adopters of the iPad. Physicians are using apps clinically within the daily workflow. I use AirStrip OB daily to monitor my patients in labor and Epocrates to check medications. Using medical apps has gone mainstream and Health apps are flooding the market. This trend will continue as the Internet itself moves from the laptop to mobile. We know physicians will use health apps but will they prescribe apps to their patients as a direct part of patient care?

It is very important that app developers understand the physician mindset if you expect us to use apps and to recommend your product to patients. We will not utilize or recommend a health app just because it is cool or just because we can. Adoption is unlikely to be based on cost, efficacy and safety. Your app needs to meet two simple criteria. First, the app needs to make physicians’ lives easier. Second, it needs to make the care we provide our patients better.

Currently I prescribe a few in clinical practice. I suggest TweetWhatYouEat.com for weight loss. I like the iPregnancyApp.com for my pregnant patients. I suggest the HealthTap.com app for access to physician driven health information. Our practice is about to release our own app for our practice in 2013.

So will physicians recommend apps to patients? Absolutely! Give us something worthwhile and we will be all over it. We ask very little in return – make our lives easier and make the care we provide better.