Friday, April 13, 2012

When your doctor prescribes an app: A Q&A with Happtique (Part I)

If you have a smartphone or a tablet computer, your AngryBirds app might have some new company soon: apps prescribed by your doctor to help you manage your health. Last month, I heard Paul Nerger, the Senior Technology Advisor for the mobile application management company Happtique, talk about the brave new world of health apps at a mobile health panel (hosted in part by the German American Business Association). Intrigued, I asked him to answer some questions about health apps for this blog. 

This is the first post of a two-part Q&A about health apps and how they will impact health care. This post explains who uses and develops health apps. Part II, to be posted next week, explores how health apps are regulated, certified, and rated. 


Who uses health apps for smartphones the most: health care providers or consumers/patients? Which group do you think will be driving demand for health apps in the future?


Clinicians use professional apps that make their jobs easier. That could be anything from keeping up-to-date on the latest medical journals, using a medical calculator, connecting with a colleague on advice, using the EHR system in the hospital, to looking up the bus schedule to figure out how to get from one facility to another.  

Patients use apps to make their lives better and more healthy. It could be a diet app, or asking questions about their health, or for those on the leading edge, tracking their own medical records.

The really interesting aspect is what happens in the future. In the near future, these two communities will start to interact with each other in ways that we've not seen before. Clinicians will start to "prescribe" apps to their patients and patients will like this because patients (i.e., all of us) trust their physicians and other healthcare professionals who look after us. With over 30,000+ apps available to help us manage some aspect of our health and well being, we will want help in figuring out what is good and what is bad, and our physicians and other clinicians (e.g., pharmacists, nurses, dietitians) will be in the perfect spot to help us.

But the clinicians need help also: they need to be able to discover an app that helps with our particular clinical condition, they need to be confident that the community within their particular professional association is confident that an app is clinically sound, and they need an easy mechanism to prescribe this to any given patient.

These are the problems and challenges that we've given a lot of thought to and are building at Happtique. 


What are the most popular health apps currently available?

There are two major categories of apps out there: medical and healthcare. The medical category is really for professionals. Apps such as Epocrates, Skyscape, 5MinuteConsult, Calculate by QXMD, MedPage Today and others are very popular with this community since they are needed by all clinicians. That does not mean that there are not some fantastic apps that are designed to solve a particular problem. For example, you might be a pediatric oncologist and you want an app to run on your iPad to help with informed consent--there is probably an app for that. Thus, the most popular medical apps might be the ones that fit a particular clinician's needs best.

And the same is true for the health apps. The most popular app for an MS patient will be very different than the most popular app for a type 2 diabetes patient.  

In other words, the quest for the "killer app" is the wrong way to look at it. Each of us, be we clinician or patient, will have our own basket of apps that makes our mobile phone or tablet right for us. Thus it is a world of choice and choosing the collection of apps that fit our need.

Again, this is why we at Happtique curate all of the medical and healthcare apps under the sun. It is important that we enable you and your physician to choose the right basket of apps to fit your needs.


Who develops health apps, and what is their motivation to develop an app?

I've seen apps built by physicians who want to make it easier for the patients that they treat to receive treatment. I've seen apps built by students who encounter a fellow student or teacher that they want to help make their life easier with a particular app. I've seen medical professionals working with engineers who see particular problems in the hospital that they want to solve and thus they build an app. I've seen leading clinicians who simply want to improve the outcomes of their class of patients. I've seen professional developers who see a market to serve and want to build a business.

In medical and healthcare, there are lots of developers coming from different backgrounds who are developing apps, but the common thread is a heartfelt desire to improve the quality of care, the quality of life, while lowering the cost of healthcare for patients. And this is why mHealth [mobile health] is different than other segments. mHealth deals with the stuff which our lives are made of and thus it is a noble cause regardless of the place that you come from.

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