Prescribing an easier pill to swallow with apps

“Download these two apps and call me in the morning.” If these doctor’s orders sound a little far-fetched, it might be time to consider thinking outside of the pillbox.

According to a recent survey, there is a possible preference among patients to be prescribed an app compared to medications. 90% of patients would accept a mobile app prescription while only 66% would fill a medication prescription. But with over 40,000 apps, where is a doctor to start? After all, most health apps receive fewer than 500 downloads, and the top 5 apps make up 15% of the health app market. Security is especially a concern with using health apps.

Prescribed apps get us a step closer to personalized medicine, and may be an easier pill to swallow than chronic medication. Medications have little room for customization, but with the right app (and subsequent patient behavior change), a more personalized doctor-patient connectivity can be created that may even enhance the effect of pharmaceuticals.

Prescribing apps that collect actual medical data and allow you to maintain connectivity with your patients between visits have the greatest potential impact. This could make the smartphone into a medical device, and the FDA has taken notice.

Welldoc is joining the home vitals space with its now prescribable (and reimbursable) mobile diabetes management platform called Bluestar. Backed by Merck, Bluestar is evidence that pharmaceutical companies are on board with personalized management. Having an adequate data wrapper around patient management is key, whether or not they’re taking medications.

There’s a role for a new digital “pharmacy” as well. With new app prescription-writing platforms such as AppScript, a curated set of tools — a “formulary” — can be built. In addition to evaluating apps, AppScript enables physicians to securely prescribe, reconcile and track app use by patients. Other companies, like Happtique, are creating standards and certification for mhealth apps.

The sweet spot in this decade of exponential medicine will be smart use of data, and patients stand to benefit when they are prescribed solutions that promote healthy behavior changes.