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Need a Doctor? There’s an App for That

The proliferation of apps for smartphones and tablets has made the delivery of medical information and services efficient for patients.

A 2015 study from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that consumers have their choice of more than 165,000 mobile health and wellness apps available on both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms; that includes apps that address fitness and nutrition, and those that focus on managing illnesses and medications. The study also reported a 106% increase in the number of health and wellness apps found on the iOS platform between 2013 and 2016.

Apps such as Doctor on Demand and Amwell can facilitate consultations with medical professionals via video chats or provide medical guidance on various conditions and their treatments, and prescribe medications. Consumers can comparison shop for prescriptions on ScriptSave WellRx, and manage their medications on apps like Medisafe Medication, which alerts users as to what prescription to take, when to take it and the required dosage. Patients can also access and protect their medical information with the help of apps such as My Medical and My Chart.

A 2015 Food and Drug Administration guidance document stated that mobile health apps used as medical devices or accessories would be under FDA regulation. Many mobile health apps are not considered medical devices, so the FDA can choose not to enforce regulations because the risk to patients is low.

For all the advantages of mobile healthcare apps, consumers need to remember that not all are created equal – or live up to the hype. Developers of one app that claimed to be “scientifically shown to improve vision” were fined $150,000 by the Federal Trade Commission for their lack of proven support, according to a ModernHealthcare.com article. Other apps have come under scrutiny for claiming they could detect symptoms of melanoma – even in its early stages.

Medical apps can also raise the issue of safety and data security risks. Some states are addressing the problem by defining which healthcare services are best delivered via telehealth, developing patient-provider relationship guidelines and establishing requirements for informed consent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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