- A variety of metrics show growing acceptance of and appreciation for mHealth apps, but a major barrier to further progress is mobile device integration with EHR systems so that data can more readily be used to improve clinical decision making and patient communication.
A report released Sept. 17 by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics pegs the number of mobile health apps available to consumers at more than 165,000, with many incorporating data-collection features linked to sensors and wearable devices. Although most available apps focus on overall wellness, healthcare systems and providers see potential for broader use in chronic disease management, according to IMS Institute, which examined a sample of the most widely used mHealth consumer apps and conducted structured interviews with health and technology industry leaders and executives.
“While much progress has been made over the past two years, mHealth apps are still far from being a fully integrated component of healthcare delivery,” said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute. “Healthcare providers are actively addressing the remaining barriers. These include developing and adopting trusted platforms for ongoing app curation and evaluation, creating practical reimbursement models and ensuring true interoperability within and across healthcare systems.”
The research indicates increasing momentum for observational studies and randomized clinical trials assessing the value of apps, especially in the areas of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and mental health. The number of clinical trials using mobile apps rose from 135 to 300 in the past two years, the study report says. Further, most of the trials underway are interventional in nature and could give physicians evidential support for integration of apps into their treatment protocols.
At the same time, the study says, connectivity is becoming a major focus for app developers. In addition to a concerted push to improve data-collection capabilities, developers are building in social networking functions that could enhance consumer engagement. However, mHealth apps are not expected to reach their full potential until they can more successfully connect and communicate with provider healthcare systems.
On the consumer side, the research finds that mHealth apps have grown at an “overwhelming” clip. For example, there has been a doubling of health-related Apple iOS apps since 2013. “This can present an intimidating number of choices for consumers, leading some to simply select the most popular apps and others to try multiple apps in an effort to determine what is best for them,” the report states, with just 12 percent of mHealth apps accounting for more than 90 percent of all consumer downloads. Nevertheless, greater provider involvement in app selection offers a potential path to assistance for consumers: 30-day retention rates rose for both health and fitness apps when prescribed by a healthcare professional.
Among the providers interviewed by IMS Institute, most say they are confident that mHealth can improve overall outcomes, reduce healthcare costs and encourage patients to take a more active role in improving their health. They urge developers and policy-makers to actively address remaining challenges in the following areas:
- limited connectivity and integration into workflow systems;
- shifts in reimbursement toward value-based care;
- data confidentiality, privacy, security and regulatory uncertainties;
- lack of scientific evidence to measure app efficacy; and
- the inability to reach highly vulnerable patients — notably the elderly and non-English-speakers.
The full study report is available here.