The Utilization of Medical Mobile Apps

Recently, the utilization of mobile medical apps (MMA’s) is becoming an essential part of the way we monitor our healthcare bringing significant changes for both health care professionals and patients. A growing number of health care professionals have been utilizing MMA’s for better physician-patient communication and access to information resources which can improve the quality of services rendered at the point of care for patients.i One study showed 70% of medical school health care professionals and students reported using at least one medical app regularly, with 50% using their favorite app daily.ii  These apps provide health care professionals with enormous benefits by assisting them in important tasks such as information and time management, health record maintenance, communication and consulting, clinical decision making, and patient monitoring. Because many health care professionals need to communicate with a variety of other medical actors such as in outpatient services, emergency departments, intensive care units, etc, apps that ease this chain of communication for physicians can help them carve out more time to consult with patients.  An example of one such app is Doximity.  Essentially a Facebook for physicians, Doximity is a social networking app that connects physicians with other colleagues and provides an easier communication channel to relay patient information.iii 

Other apps have assisted health care professionals by providing essential medical information needed for educating physicians at the point of care. Uptodate is an evidence based clinical resource that compiles multiple medical research studies which physicians can access through an app on their android phone or tablet. Having mobile access to  such resources not only prepare physicians to give the best recommendations to their patients, but improve patient care by providing information physicians can use to  “choose appropriate screening tests for patients, recognize when immunizations are due, or calculate a patient’s risk of developing heart problems.”iv  As a result, physicians are better equipped for patient monitoring, a growing challenge. Jeannette Tighe from the HealthTech Advisory practice at Sagentina explained that “the demand for remote patient monitoring is growing dramatically… almost 20 percent of Americans will be older than 65 by 2030, making them more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and other age-associated conditions.”v This type of changing landscape poses challenge to which remote patient monitoring can be an attractive solution.  MMA’s can assist in successful remote patient monitoring. The Android Iwander app, for example, has software that can help health care professionals track Alzheimer disease patients that may wander The benefits using MMA’s for remote patient monitoring, however, are not limited solely to health care professionals. In a mayo clinic study, discharged patients that used a medical app developed by the clinic to record daily measurements such as blood pressure, weight, blood sugar levels, minutes of physical activity, and dietary habits were less likely to be readmitted to a hospital.vii In another study, researchers found that patients that conducted ‘supervised’ rehabilitation exercises session in their homes with a portable heart monitor and GPS receiver were able to transmit real data from their sessions to their doctors through a smartphone.viii These examples illustrate how utilization of MMA’s can both improve the efficiency of how physicians manage the health of patients and enhance patient self-monitoring. Such innovation helps  promote a society where people can have access to resources that help them live healthier lives. 

The MMA market, however, is not without pitfalls. In comparison to medical textbooks that are subject to review by experts in the health field, apps are not effectively vetted for accuracy or safety.ix As a result, certain apps may present erroneous information regarding a patient’s health such as an incorrect heart rate reading.x Concerns over MMA quality has prompted the U.S Federal and Drug Administration to create a regulatory framework. The administration has placed  MMA’s into three categories; unregulated wellness-focused apps like exercise and heart rate trackers, enforcement discretion apps that are disease focused and work to calculate health risks as well as monitor patients with diseases, and regulated apps which act as medical devices  to specifically monitor patients and provide treatment responses.xi Apps that fall into this last tier are regulated because they pose the greatest health concerns to patients if faulty information is delivered.xii Though FDA regulation may provide an incentive for MMA makers and medical companies to assure accurate information is provided, there is still a concern about regulations harming innovation and hindering the growth of a market that has the potential to promote healthier lives. Overburdening regulations can certainly curb innovation. A clear regulatory pathway, however, can potentially further a goal of promoting healthier lives by providing guidance  under which medical technology companies can develop reliable MMA’s.  This guidance can prevent a stifling of innovation in the MMA market because companies understand and are aware of the steps needed to developing an approved FDA MMA, and an approval by the FDA can bolster a MMA’s reliability and legitimacy.

As technological advancements continue, the healthcare market must utilize these advancements for better, efficient ways of monitoring health and developing treatment responses. The utilization of MMA’s is just one example of how the health field seeks to benefit from technological advancements.  Such innovative mechanisms improve physician monitoring of patients and provide access to resources that patients can use to lead healthier lives, provided that they accurate and reliable. 

[i] C. Lee Ventola, Mobile Devices and Apps for Health Care Professionals: Uses and Benefits, NCBI (May 2014), [ii] Id. [iii] Id. [iv] Kenny Lin, The Promise and pitfalls of medical apps for Doctors, U.S. News and Work Report  (August 26, 2011),   [v] MIT Technology Review Custom, Mobile Medical Apps: A Market on the Move, MIT Technology Review (November 18, 2014), [vi]Ventola, supra [vii] Paul Bennet, The Convergence of Medical  And Consumer Health Apps, Forbes (July 15 2014), [viii] Lin, supra [ix] Kenny Lin, supra [x] Id. [xi] MIT Technology review [xii] Id.