I was really intrigued by an article in Forbes by David Shaywitz that takes an interesting look at Digital Health and why “pills still matter.” This paragraph sums up the article quite well and provides some interesting points of caution for those in Digital Health.
I read a tweet recently asserting that physicians may soon prescribe health apps as an alternative to medications; my initial reaction: good luck with that one. It’s certainly easy enough to envision how magical thinking about the power of health apps will soon be replaced by disappointment as app developers realize something drug makers have known for years: it’s hard to improve health, and it can be very difficult to get patients to stick with a treatment long enough to make a difference.
I’ve been watching the idea of prescribing an app for quite a while. In fact, we’ve written about the “virtual pharmacy” on Smart Phone Healthcare a few times. Plus, I’ve talked a number of times with John Moore about his new company Prescribable Apps. Isn’t that the perfect name for an mHealth company?
Everyone has to agree that the concept of being able to prescribe something as simple as a mobile app that can improve your medical condition is very cool. Although David Shaywitz’s warning is a good one: It’s hard to improve health, and it can be very difficult to get patients to stick with a treatment long enough to make a difference.
He’s absolutely right that those are the challenges for mobile health apps. Although, while that is the challenge of mobile health apps, as an entrepreneur it is also the huge opportunity. It will be hard for a mobile health apps to really improve health. Although those that do achieve that noble and important goal will receive a HUGE reward. Just like pharmaceutical companies that discover a new drug that improves health end up with a huge financial windfall, the mobile health apps will see the same result.
Of course there are a lot of important questions about how to know which mobile health apps really do improve health. What’s going to be the filter? Who and how will we measure the effectiveness of all these apps? Then, of course will there be someone monitoring the mobile health apps the way we monitor drugs? Many of these questions will need answers, but I’m quite certain that some mobile health apps will improve health and those that do will be very successful.
I wonder if any EHR companies have thought about how to integrate mobile health app prescription into their EHR. It’s a bit premature to really do so, but I’ll be interested to see how they make it happen.