Photo courtesy of Juhan Sonin

Photo courtesy of Juhan Sonin

Mobile health (mHealth) apps are becoming universally accepted by doctors and patients, but the usability gap grows with each addition. According to Research2Guidance, an international market research firm, there are over 40,000 mobile health apps downloaded and used by 247 million people.

Among those, thousands seek to record and analyze patient data. While keeping track of our own vitals can help doctors spot trends and even predict health problems (see previous post on “Quantified Self”), unless there is a way they can access information collected from any app and use it internally, the data is not useful on a large scale. Despite the increase in demand for these apps, relatively few seem to provide streamlined data export capability.

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A recent poll from Mitchell Research found that “of the 78 million Baby Boomers in the U.S., 24 percent own smartphones and are turning to apps recommended by their doctors to further preventative care.  Half of the 600 poll respondents also said they will buy medical related apps their doctor recommends including apps that help monitor their weight, exercise or conditions like heart disease and diabetes.”

Respondents from the same poll also confirmed that there is a greater likelihood for them to download an app if it was recommended by their doctor than if a friend or family member told them about it. Yet, doctors are limited in the number of apps they can recommend or prescribe, unless they’re sure they can access the data collected and analyze their patients’ health trends.

Dr. David Voran, Medical Director for Clinical Process Improvement at Heartland Health System, says “we have committed to participating in at least two ACO’s and will be trying to leverage mobile applications to help us. But already there’s no way our HIT staff can even attempt to create and maintain interfaces with even a small number of the many apps my patients are using.”

He continues to explain that many of the apps allow sharing of information to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but concludes that it isn’t feasible for doctors to scour their patients newsfeed for self-tracking data, and feels “somewhat creepy.”

Simply exporting the data you record and collect in the app as a CSV or plain text file will at least allow the data to be accessible (and thus usable) to doctors in any facility. Additionally, people often expect the flexibility to switch between applications and even analyze the data they may have recorded before using the app, both of which make universal data import capability an equally important consideration. If the ability to seamlessly transmit data to your doctor becomes widespread, these innovative apps will continually provide full utility for both doctors and patients.


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