According to a recent survey from healthcare research company Black Book Rankings, 83 percent of physicians said they would use a mobile app to connect to electronic health records (EHR) if more options became available. However, only 8 percent said they currently do use one.
EHRs are a big part of the recent healthcare overhaul passed by President Barack Obama and the two Houses of Congress. Citing increased efficiency and lower costs, the federal government has set aside cash incentives to be paid through Medicare if providers and hospitals are able to prove “meaningful use” of the technology.
Mobile health (mHealth) apps for EHRs must be created differently than most web-based apps that simply repackage an existing website. EHR apps are also typically built from scratch because phones and tablet computers aren’t equipped to handle the multitude of features in a desktop EHR.
Most EHR apps are built with the iPad in mind – primarily because each iteration keeps the same hardware and software. One such app, drchrono, was developed specifically for the iPad Mini. A recent survey from Manhattan Research showed 72 percent of physicians use an iPad of some kind.
Patient mobile health apps expand possibilities
“There are at least two major areas where digital medicine might be expected to play a significant role. The first opportunity is in helping to motivate behavior change by spurring patient engagement,” physician David Shaywitz wrote in an article for Forbes.
In 2011, Food and Drug Administration issued proposed guidelines for regulating what it called “mobile medical applications.”
“As is the case with traditional medical devices, mobile medical apps can pose potential risks to public health,” said a statement on the FDA website.
“Moreover, mobile medical apps may pose additional or different risks due to the unique characteristics of the platform,” the statement continued. “For example, the interpretation of radiological images on a mobile device could be adversely affected by the smaller screen size, lower contrast ratio, and uncontrolled ambient light of the mobile platform; FDA intends to take these limitations into account in assessing the appropriate regulatory oversight for these products.”
Some of the proposed FDA regulations for mHealth could include effectiveness demonstrations and potentially clinical trials, irking software developers not used to having the FDA regulate their work.
“That’s culture clash,” Bradley Thompson, an attorney who works with the mHealth Regulatory Coalition told Politco. “We get calls from consumer electronics firms all the time, where speed is everything. … I spend a huge amount of time explaining what it means to be in regulated territory, what it means to be FDA-regulated.”
App developers also have to answer the question of how to market them. Advertisements may have to be carefully worded to avoid potential lawsuits. Government officials have suggested that any apps that make claims about health benefits should be registered with the FDA and provide some scientific literature supporting the claims.
Regardless of where they are used, mobile health apps could improve quality of care for a wide range of patients. According to Shaywitz, these apps would make treating diseases more patient-centric as opposed to a more clinical mindset of one-size-fits-all mindset.
An easy way for mHealth apps to become patient-centric would be to incorporate themselves into existing social media structures. The American Diabetes Association of Washington is already tking this approach. Through a partnership with social media company Numera, the association is using Facebook to connect patients with diabetes to with their friends, family and others as they report their diet compliance and connect over meeting exercise or other health goals.