Healthcare apps can benefit self-pay patients

One of the developments in modern medicine that has a great deal of potential for self-pay patients (as well as anyone else) is the creation of patient-oriented medical apps for mobile phones and tablets. For people who are paying directly for their own health care, anything that can aid in keeping or regaining health, monitoring a condition, or supporting treatment adherence is likely to pay off in both better health and saved dollars.

But while the potential is there, it’s also worth noting that the ocean of healthcare apps includes an awful lot of offerings that range from ‘bogus’ to unhelpful to flawed. A recent study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics looked at all 43,000+ health related apps available on the iTunes site. According to a story by Modern Healthcare, “only 54% of them were “genuine” healthcare apps. Of those, 69% targeted consumers and patients… fewer than 50 relate to condition management or provide tools and calculators for users to measure their vitals…” Another story in Medscape reporting on the same study noted that “On a functionality scale of 0 to 100, more than 90% of the apps scored 40 or lower.”  

This suggests that healthcare apps still have a long way to go. The study did point out several apps that do provide value however, and called out one for special attention that can help diabetics. Here’s what the study had to say about WellDoc Diabetes Manager:

One of the most advanced apps for condition management and remote monitoring, approved by the FDA, is the WellDoc Diabetes Management software available through the app store with partner AT&T. In the initial clinical trial of WellDoc (a 3 month non-blinded randomized controlled trial of 30 T2D patients aged 18-70 years old) the average decrease in A1c values for intervention patients was 2.03% compared to 0.68% (P<0.02, one-tailed) for control patients. Of the intervention patients 84% had medications titrated or changed by their HCP compared to controls (23%, P = 0.002).

The WellDoc group also demonstrated improved self-care in diet, medication, and exercise compared to that achieved by control patients receiving usual HCP care. A key component of the software is the Guided Compliance™ tool which directs patients to test their blood glucose at optimal times to generate data for pattern analysis. The software also acts as a coaching tool suggesting medication and lifestyle/self-management changes to patients (all suggested changes are also communicated to the HCP). A follow-on trial consisted of a 12-month cluster-randomized study with 163 participants. The trial demonstrated that the average decrease in A1c values for intervention patients was 1.9% compared to 0.7% in the standard care control group (P<0.001). The study therefore demonstrates that it is possible to improve treatment outcomes with mobile phone and web portal communications when used by both patients and their HCPs.

Here are several other apps that were highly regarded by the IMS Institute study that I thought might be particularly useful for self-pay patients:

HealthTap – Provides health answers and healthy tips on any symptom, condition, medication, health concern, or even wellness topics from 47,000 U.S. doctors; provides current and vetted health information.

iTriage – Provides clear, concise, and useful information covering thousands of medical symptoms, diseases, conditions, procedures, medications and drugs.

WebMD for iPad – Provides mobile-optimized health information and decision-support tools including WebMD’s Symptom Checker, Drugs & Treatments, First Aid Information and Local Health Listings.

GoodRx – Compares prices for prescription drugs and provides prices, coupons and savings tips for more than 6,000 drugs at most pharmacies in the U.S.

Dosecast – Flexible medication reminder with customizable dose amounts and instructions, a large drug database and the ability to support multiple users.

Pill Monitor – Prescription reminder that alerts the user every time they need to take a prescription. Allows user to enter all prescriptions, set up reminders, and track when they have been taken.

RxmindMe – Prescription reminder that alerts the user every time they need to take a prescription. Allows user to enter all prescriptions, set up reminders, and track when they have been taken.

Live OCD Free– Claims to reduce OCD symptoms by 34% in 8 weeks; includes video tutorials as well as extensive user guide.

T2 Mood Tracker – Allows users to monitor their moods on six pre-loaded scales (anxiety, stress, depression, brain injury, post-traumatic stress, general wellbeing). Custom scales can also be built.

SkinKeeper – Enables user to monitor moles, capture important personal and family skin cancer risk factors, and share this information with their doctor.

A few of these listed here I’ve mentioned before (RxmindMe and GoodRx, for example), but many are new to me.

The report indicates that health care apps is a growing industry, and this could be an especially valuable tool for self-pay patients. As I noted earlier, there are at least 43,000 health-related apps in the iTunes store, and likely more elsewhere. I’d love to hear back from any readers with comments and suggestions on apps that they’ve found particularly useful as self-pay patients!

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