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Ask the Experts: Are Apps Invading Healthcare?

Would you bank on the digital health industry in MA? Photo via everythingpossible/ Shutterstock.

Apps are slowly invading healthcare. Why should you care? Photo via everythingpossible/ Shutterstock.

It’s not a secret that apps are invading healthcare. But the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) is asking an important question: Why should you care?

On May 7, 2015, MMS will hold a panel on this topic from 6-9 pm to discuss apps, Apple HealthKit, Epic, SMART EHR technologies, Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), Public APIs and implications of technology innovation on the CMS 10-Year Interoperability plan. Register here!

Today, we chatted with panelists from the event to get their sense of the current state of apps in healthcare. Where have we been going? Where have we been? Where can apps benefit us and when should we be concerned?

Ricky Bloomfield Jr., MD

140213_bloomfield002Bloomfield is the Director of Mobile Technology Strategy at Duke Medicine, where he is also an assistant professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. During his residency, he founded a successful software company creating health and social networking apps for iOS devices that has enjoyed over 12 million downloads to date.

Q: What is the state of apps in healthcare today? Are patients and doctors using them?

We’re at an important inflection point for apps in healthcare. The current market is diverse and growing quickly, but apps still largely exist in isolation from one another, lacking integration with a common platform from both the end-user perspective as well as the provider perspective. Within the past year we’ve seen some remarkable new technologies that aim to close this gap, including Apple’s HealthKit, Google’s Fit and the SMART on FHIR platform. Patient and provider uptake will start to grow as these apps become more accessible and meaningful through integration with relevant data.

Q: What are the biggest benefits of using apps in healthcare?

As the App Store and Google Play store have demonstrated, removing barriers to app development and distribution can result in the acceleration of innovation in any market. This democratization of development has resulted in many more interested parties contributing to the market than otherwise would be able. The more minds we have working on these problems, the more diverse solutions we’ll start to see to decades-old problems. Agile, single-purpose apps will start to spring up that integrate seamlessly with EHRs and which do one thing very well.

Apps will also start to have a more significant impact on large-scale research. As Apple’s ResearchKit has demonstrated, there is a healthy consumer appetite to donate time towards the altruistic cause of medical research, and novel studies will soon be available that enable researchers to access a significant percentage of the population for general studies, or to more easily access patients with rare disease around the world.

Q: What are the biggest concerns you have about apps being more widely used in healthcare?

As these technologies proliferate, we need to ensure that patient privacy is protected and that patients and providers recognize the risks involved in using such technologies. These will never be risk-free, but to date we’ve determined that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

We also need to ensure that our patients with chronic disease – those who can most benefit from these technologies – have access to broadband internet as well as these devices and apps. We may need to get creative in how we distribute the devices and will need to determine efficacy at a large scale so that payers are willing to subsidize the up-front costs.

Finally, there is currently very little quality control for the apps found in the App Store. While Apple has required a Privacy Policy for all HealthKit and ResearchKit apps, the review process doesn’t necessarily ensure validity. Health systems need to carefully vet these apps prior to recommending them to patient and/or providers.

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Jennifer M. Joe, MD

Jennifer M. Joe, MD

    My passion is healthcare optimization, whether that is with innovation, making scientific discoveries, or improving delivery. I love bringing people and ideas together and making projects work. With this, medicine exists to improve lives, and I will strive to always help patients and those around me.

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