Family docs use reference apps, 'prescribe' apps to patients

Slowly but surely, medical apps are changing family medicine, so argues an article in the July issue of The Journal of Family Practice--and the changes so far have been evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Currently, the article finds that family practitioners are primarily using mobile devices and medical apps to access reference materials in and out of the exam room. However, other doctors have begun "prescribing" apps to patients that are more comfortable using mobile technology, according to the author. 

"Still others have never used a medical app, either because they prefer a desktop or laptop computer to a smartphone or tablet or because, as one [family practitioner] put it, 'I have a dumb phone,'" observed the article.

Abigail Lowther, MD, a family practitioner at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, recommends apps frequently to her patients, according to the article. However, Lowther typically broaches the subject only with patients who have their smartphones out when she walks into the room. 

Kelly M. Latimer, MD, a family practitioner in the U.S. Navy stationed in Djibouti, Africa, routinely asks patients whether they have a smartphone and often recommends apps to those who do, states the article. Dr. Latimer frequently recommends apps like Relaxation Techniques and Breathe2Relax, and often suggests apps like Calorie Count and MyFitnessPal to boost patients' efforts to lose weight and get in shape.

A recent survey by healthcare marketing and advertising agency Digitas Health has found that 90 percent of patients would accept the offer of a mobile app, while only 66 percent of respondents would accept prescription medicine from their doctor. Moreover, 89 percent of doctors were likely to recommend a mobile health app to patients in a January 2013 survey by ambulatory clinical solutions provider eClinicalWorks.

But, what about family practitioners leveraging smartphones in the exam room? In April, at TEDMED 2013 in Washington, D.C., attendees were treated to a first-of-its kind demonstration of a smartphone-enabled physical exam that was billed as the "checkup of the future." The so-called Smartphone Physical captured both quantitative and qualitative data, ranging from simple readings of weight and blood pressure to more complex readings such as heart rhythm strips and optic discs.

While smartphone physicals are not likely to be integrated into family practice for some time to come, states the article, Glen Stream, MD, board chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians, predicts that integration of some of their features is not too far away.

To learn more:
- read the article