IMS Health finds mHealth mobile app 'prescriptions' on the rise

Take one app and call me in the morning. Writing a prescription for mobile apps is becoming an effective tool in getting patients to adhere to treatment plans, IMS Health found as part of its update to a 2013 app study.

When physicians wrote prescriptions for apps, as they are increasingly doing, 30-day retention rates among patients jumped by 10% overall--and by 30% specifically for prescribed fitness apps. The report also noted, "If mHealth app access is streamlined with automatic log-in, upload and connectivity with provider healthcare systems, providers note an even greater potential for improved patient retention rates."

While apps from pharma companies were not broken out specifically, executive director of IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics Murray Aiken said they were included in the apps studied.

IMS Health's Murray Aiken

"(Prescribing apps) is a critical part of the pathway in the use of mHealth," Aiken said during a press conference call.

The survey found that the total number of mHealth apps grew to a whopping 165,000, quadruple the number in 2013. Two-thirds of them are wellness apps, which included fitness, lifestyle and stress, and diet and nutrition.

Another quarter are used for disease and treatment management, with just 9% of those specific to a particular disease. Within disease-specific apps, the five largest app categories were mental health (29%), diabetes (15%), blood and circulatory (8%), musculoskeletal (7%) and nervous system (6%). That was a shift in focus from 2013 with only mental health and musculoskeletal staying in the top five.

While it's important for pharma to note the boost in app uptake and increase in adherence when prescribed--and possibly work on ways to reach doctors with specific drug apps--another finding of note was that doctors are overwhelmed by the number and functionality of so many mHealth apps. Physicians are beginning to turn to ratings and evaluation platforms to help them, IMS Health found, noting the rise of "objective third party organizations, such as Happtique, PatientView, HealthTap, Wellocracy and IMS Health's AppScript."

Consumers are as overwhelmed as doctors, evidenced by the fact that just 12% of mHealth apps accounted for 90% of all consumer downloads. Aiken added, at the press conference, that 40% of mHealth apps have fewer than 5,000 users.

Clinical trial apps--8% of which are sponsored by pharma--are also on the rise, increasing from 135 to 300 in the two years.

"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," Aiken said in a press release. "Healthcare providers are actively addressing the remaining barriers. These include developing and adopting trusted platforms for ongoing apps curation and evaluation, creating practical reimbursement models and ensuring true interoperability within and across healthcare systems."

- see the IMS Health release

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