We live in an ever-changing, fast-paced, and transitional world, and our health care system is no different. It’s hardly surprising, then, that digital health apps are becoming more commonplace in clinical practice. Need a useful tool to help you manage or monitor your patient’s chronic condition or educate them on preventive health and wellness measures? There’s an app for that.
If you question or lament this continual digital creep—or think it has no bearing on your patient population—you may be surprised to know that 77% of Americans have a smartphone with texting and/or mobile application abilities, creating innovative opportunities for health care providers to incorporate health apps into patient care.1 And the benefits are not just a sales pitch on the part of manufacturers—in fact, the American Diabetes Association’s 2018 Standards of Care include a recommendation for use of mobile apps for the prevention and delayed progression of type 2 diabetes.2 Of course, research shows that clinicians are more likely to adopt digital health tools if those tools improve practice efficiency, increase patient safety, improve diagnostic ability, help reduce burnout, and enhance patient-provider relationships.3
So maybe you see a role for apps in patient care. But the sheer volume and continuous proliferation of apps present an obstacle to effective evaluation and recommendation. With more than 318,000 health apps on the market and another 200 added every day, how do you know which ones are clinically sound and useful for your patients?4 Fortunately, there are two strategies that can help you integrate digital health apps into patient care.
1 HEALTH APPS AS MEDICATIONS
Viewing health apps as if they were medications can be helpful. Think about the process we as clinicians use when we’re thinking about prescribing a medication to a particular patient: we evaluate, manage, and prescribe.
Evaluate: As clinicians, we learn about the newest biopharmaceutical agents on the market to effectively govern our personal repertoire of medications and provide the best care for our patients. In this process, we evaluate clinical efficacy, safety, costs, benefits, barriers, contextual elements, caregiver impact, clinical studies, and more. This type of vetting process is also an effective approach to selecting and recommending health apps for your patients.
Manage: We each have a personal catalog of medications with which we become well versed, and comfortable, to effectively manage and help our patients with a multitude of medical conditions. This registry of medications represents our very special and individual “favorites,” per se. So, create a personal repertoire of health apps to improve and manage patient care.
Prescribe: Similar to medications, many digital health apps have demonstrated impressive patient outcomes with supporting clinical evidence. So why not get comfortable with prescribing digital health applications for behavior modifications or common medical conditions, just as you would with a medication?
2 BUILD YOUR PERSONAL APP LIBRARY
Another strategy—touched upon in the “Manage” section earlier—is to create a personal library of highly regarded, well-vetted health apps to address common patient care matters. These could be recommended to a broad audience and will form the cornerstone of your digital compendium.
To get you started, Table 1 outlines a handful of health apps every primary care clinician should know about. These apps are supported by clinical research, endorsed or ranked by health care/industry expert organizations, and come recommended by clinical colleagues, students, or myself. The presented health apps are easily accessible via the App Store or Google Play and offer free versions, so you can assess and recommend them to your patients at no cost.
I hope you find these apps helpful with your future patient care efforts.