Apps are capable of so much, but can they refresh the tired face of the health care system? Many smartphone and tablet users have already discovered the benefits of health apps that enable heart-rate or diet monitoring.
It’s a steady trend that has doctors and patients wondering what the future of smart medicine will be.
An app Rx
It sounds like pure science fiction — doctors prescribing downloads instead of pills, and insurance companies covering the cost of apps — but for many it’s a reality that can’t come soon enough. Supporters are aiming for a near future where complex apps that serve a variety of medical functions are developed to fill market demand.
They see prescribing apps now as a stepping stone for future app creation. For others, the issues accompanying app prescription — quality control, education, the cost of development, and FDA vetting — are hurdles that might eventually prove prohibitive.
So far, health-based apps have been quite successful. Some aim simply at encouraging proper hydration, others monitor more complex wellness and fitness plans, and even act as personal trainers.
Because these apps have been so popular and apparently effective, it’s not a huge leap for doctors who are hoping that apps can work magic with more serious, chronic diseases as well.
A recent study by a group called Digitas Health confirmed that in the US chronic patients are also hopeful. An astonishing 90% of those surveyed confirmed that they would be fine with a mobile app prescription. The number is even more defining when compared to the mere 66% of patients who would be happy with a medical prescription.
Costs and benefits
Smartphone apps may be capable of reducing costs on both ends of the system. Because many actually function as a medical device, that are considerably more costly than standard apps.
Take, for example, the diabetes management app by WellDoc. It actually records blood sugar levels and makes dietary recommendations, and it costs more than $100 per month. In part, higher costs are the result of developing apps that will run perfectly the first time, without constant updates and bug fixes.
WellDoc’s diabetes app is one of the few that has been approved by the FDA. This year, WellDoc’s BlueStar broke even more ground by becoming the first “mobile integrated therapy” that can be prescribed by doctors and paid for by individual insurance.
Download your way to wellness
Tablets and smartphones have already changed the way doctors practice medicine. From field doctors who use portable equipment and mobile technology to serve military personnel, to EMTs and ER doctors who use tablets to transmit lifesaving information quickly and accurately, the worlds of technology and medicine are a natural fit.
If you have a chronic disease or illness, consider asking your doctor if there’s an app prescription that’s right for you. Don’t forget to ask if your insurance company will foot the bill.