Users love health apps, docs hesitant

Only 16 percent of doctors are using mHealth apps in their workhealth_apps with patients, but almost half expect to introduce them to their practice within the next five years. And almost every person who uses a health app says it’s improving their quality of life.

That’s the take-away from a survey of 500 healthcare professionals and 1,000 health app users by the Research Now Group. The survey indicates that while those using health apps are well aware of the benefits, healthcare providers are still reluctant to jump in.

“Mobile apps for smartphones are changing the way doctors and their patients approach medicine and health issues,” Vincent DeRobertis, senior vice president of global healthcare for the Plano, Texas based firm, said in a press release. “Patients with heart disease can send information about their heart rate straight to their doctors, accessories allow diabetics to monitor their blood glucose levels by sending the results straight to their smartphone, and nutritionists can see trends in patients’ caloric intake and exercise patterns.”

The survey asked clinicians whether they use mHealth apps, whether they think apps are beneficial and for which types of patients, and where apps would have the greatest potential.

In terms of where apps might improve care:

  • 86 percent said apps would improve their knowledge of their patients’ conditions;
  • 72 percent said they would encourage patients to take more responsibility for their own health;
  • Half said the apps would improve patient treatment; and
  • 46 percent said the app would improve the relationships they have with their patients.

In terms of who would benefit best from apps, providers targeted not only those with acute health needs but those at risk – meaning they recognize the benefits of mHealth in preventive care and wellness. According to the survey, 76 percent of clinicians named those with chronic conditions, 61 percent said those at risk of developing health issues would benefit most, 55 percent said they would benefit people who are healthy, and 48 percent said the benefits are greatest for those recently discharged from a hospital.

While only 16 percent of providers surveyed said they now use apps and 46 percent plan to use them within five years, 59 percent said they now use smartphone technology to access medical research and another 28 percent expect to do so within five years. And only 19 percent said they don’t expect smartphone technology to become part of their clinical workflow.

Among health app users, meanwhile, 32 percent currently share information collected via apps with their doctors. And while a hearty 96 percent say apps will help improve the quality of their lives, only 37 percent of providers feel the same way – indicating a hesitance among clinicians to believe that mHealth will convince consumers to become healthier. That speaks of a disconnect between clinicians and their patients and an ongoing issue with consumer engagement.

Finally, health apps are far more prevalent as lifestyle aids than as healthcare guides. According to the survey, 60 percent use them to monitor activity or workouts, 53 percent use them as motivation to exercise, 49 percent to record calories and 42 percent to monitor their weight. Conversely, only 30 percent use them to monitor existing health conditions and 29 percent use them as medication reminders

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