Mobile Health Apps Increase in Number and Variety, Make Patient Lives More Manageable


mHealth apps greatly improve the accuracy and convenience of data collection.

mHealth apps greatly improve the accuracy and convenience of data collection.

The advent of patient health care applications, referred to as mHealth apps, has helped make patient lives easier in guiding them through their diagnosis.

A recent report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics shows the growth in this particular area of patient innovation, evaluates current applications, and their areas of expertise. The report also identified areas of need for future applications.

mHealth apps have grown in size in recent years, increasing in number by nearly 100% since the last report came out in 2013. The applications are available on both iTunes and Android App stores.

However, of the applications available to patients, only 26,864 are directly related to patient health and treatment, while more than half of mHealth apps studied have single functionality and limited value in advancing health care outcomes. This trend echoes that of the original 2013 report.

However, as interest increases in the area of chronic disease management, more apps are becoming available to patients to help them manage diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, and mental health disorders. The majority of mHealth apps focus on general wellness, especially diet and exercise. But with this added interest in chronic disease management, more than a quarter of available apps focus on disease and treatment.

Many of the apps available have different functionalities, including ability to connect to social media and the ability to connect to certain sensors and devices that greatly improve the accuracy and convenience of data collection. Around 10% of mHealth apps have the ability to connect to medical sensors and devices to improve data collection methods for physicians. Of the top mHealth apps, 65% connect to social media, indicating a strong importance of this functionality to patients.

“App connectivity has become a major focus for developers. We now see that 1 in 10 apps has some type of capability to connect to a device or sensor, and that therefore opens up the ability to gather biofeedback and physiological functional data from patients, which clearly goes a long way towards extending both the accuracy and the convenience of the data collection,” said Murray Aitken, Executive Director of IMS Institute. “We also note that during the past 2 years, the percentage of mHealth apps with the capability to connect to social networks has gone from 26 percent to 34% of all apps. We think that that underscores the importance of social networking in consumer engagement.”

While the number of mHealth apps available to consumers has doubled in size since 2013, nearly half of all downloads are generated by just 36 mHealth apps. The amount of applications available and variety of the apps make selecting software difficult and confusing for patients, especially without guidance from their health care provider. Patients may try several apps in an effort to independently determine the best type of mHealth software for their particular disease.

While the applications provide much information and guidance to patients with chronic diseases, physicians are rightfully hesitant to prescriptively suggest the use of these apps to patients due to the lack of medical evidence regarding safety and efficacy. However, health care providers do show increasing interest and excitement about the possible integration of these apps in patient care.

But currently, too many barriers exist for them to fully adopt the applications in a prescriptive manner, including lack of scientific evidence to lack of integration into workflow systems, regulatory and privacy unknowns and lack of provisions for reimbursement. These barriers are further magnified by a complex healthcare system with limited interoperability both within and across healthcare organizations.

Further research is needed to determine how efficient these applications are in helping patients take care of themselves and learn more about how to manage their chronic diseases. As the number of mHealth applications grows and patients begin to use and trust them more frequently, physicians will likely adopt them in a prescriptive manner and increase their usage in medical practice.

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