For the last century and a half, prescription medication has been a given for doctors. Patients suffer from an ailment, seek treatment from a physician and are prescribed medication if need be.
However, we could be in for a change. Categorized as mobile software that diagnoses, tracks, or treats disease, mHealth apps are becoming the preferred method of treatment for some patients, particularly those with chronic medical conditions.
According to a 2,000 patient survey by Digitas Health, 90% of patients accept a prescription for mHealth app, while only 66% would accept one for medication. This level of openness among patients has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to note mHealth’s growing popularity, going as far as recently regulating these apps.
So if the scenario calls for it, can mobile apps edge out more traditional medications as the primary tool for patient treatment once a patient leaves the exam room?
Why mHealth Apps Can Do It
For one, the medium through which mHealth apps are made available is becoming increasingly popular. A Pew Report earlier this year found that 56% of American adults now have a smartphone of some kind, meaning these apps are becoming increasingly more accessible to patients.
Cost is also a factor. Some mHealth apps can range from $50 to $100, but these are normally the exception. In fact, when compared to prescription medications, which many patients complain are far too pricey.
Another reason mHealth apps may have staying power is the absence of bodily side effects. Medicinal side effects can sometimes be scarier than whatever ailment a patient is suffering from. If a certain cholesterol medication can have a negative effect on patients’ livers, they’re more likely to stray from their regimen.
If physicians want to ensure their patients are following prescriptions, mHealth apps will continue to nudge their way into the equation.
Why mHealth Apps Can’t Do It
mHealth apps commonly function by recording patients’ health habits and then making recommendations to you and your patient that will positively affect their health over time. For this reason, mHealth apps are more applicable towards chronic conditions but only work as alternatives for too large a number of cases. There isn’t really an app to help your patients quickly overcome a case of the flu, where prescription medication often performs well.
Also, mHealth apps cause concerns over patient privacy. With mHealth apps that track, there is a fair amount of personal health data stored in the app. But what happens if a patient loses their phone? If the device’s data isn’t encrypted and passcode protected, this can present a huge problem.
While there are arguments on both sides, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Over time, traditional prescriptions may decrease while mHealth prescriptions increase. In the end, it’s unlikely these apps will put make any serious dent in the prescribing of conventional medications, but they do provide interesting opportunities for collaboration.
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