Dept of Health to start encouraging physicians to prescribe health apps: Good or bad idea?

In an exciting revelation from across the pond, the UK Department of Health is going to start encouraging primary care physicians to start prescribing healthcare apps to their patients.

The Department of Health’s leadership, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, is one of the biggest proponents of this measure:

At an event showcasing the best ideas for new and existing health smartphone apps, the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “So many people use apps every day to keep up with their friends, with the news, find out when the next bus will turn up or which train to catch.

“I want to make using apps to track blood pressure, to find the nearest source of support when you need it and to get practical help in staying healthy the norm.

At iMedicalApps, the idea of prescribing apps was mentioned more than a year ago in an interview we did with Practice Fusion, and we have written extensively about the subject recently, in a piece titled, “One day soon your doctor will prescribe you a medical app”.

Obviously, we feel the promise of mHealth is a great one, and our recent mHealth research series have shown data to back this up. However, our recent editorial article, “No, the FDA is not assaulting mobile technology”, shows the caution that should be exercised with these innovative medical and health apps.

The different dynamics of the healthcare systems in the UK enable their health system to implement these types of apps more readily than we can in the US. For example, a revered app in the UK is Patients Know Best. It enables patients to get their electronic health records form their clinicians and also easily distribute their information to other clinicians.

But in order to make this happen, the app taps in the NHS — the publicly funded health care system in the UK. Obviously, extrapolating this type of functionality in the US would be painful as our system of patient records is extremely fragmented.

On top of all this, would insurance companies in the US even reimburses for this level of care? Does it even matter if insurance companies would reimburse though?  Physicians who choose to “prescribe” apps could potentially differentiate themselves from their peers, making the reimbursement question a moot point.

Another factor to consider is liability. Would you as a physician even feel comfortable “prescribing” an app. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable prescribing anything that I haven’t used myself. And I definitely would never prescribe an app that makes medical recommendations unless it’s backed by the FDA.

Overall, I think this is a great idea for the UK system.  But in the US, until we get the FDA or other regulatory bodies more involved, physicians will be — and quite frankly should be — hesitant to prescribe health care apps.

Source: BBC


Iltifat Husain, MD

Founder, Editor-in-Chief of Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Director of Mobile App curriculum at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He is also the founder of iPrescribeApps, a platform for prescribing apps to patients. Dr. Husain has given lectures on digital medicine globally. He went to North Carolina State University for undergrad and went to medical school at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

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2 Responses to Dept of Health to start encouraging physicians to prescribe health apps: Good or bad idea?

  1. Mohammad Al-Ubaydli February 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words Iltifat, and it was great to hear you were discussing Patients Know Best because I am a big fan of iMedicalApps.

    I did want to say though that you should not count out the USA. We already have one US hospital using our software, with another couple close to starting. And one of the US app developers who has integrated with us has a business model where the app would be funded by the insurance companies because it can prevent visits to the ED.

    The US is hugely innovative, and it is the very fragmentation that makes using such technology so important.

    Mohammad Al-Ubaydli
    Patients Know Best

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