More mHealth apps not necessarily merrier for providers, consumers

Conventional wisdom, especially when it comes to technology, is that more is better--more participants drive competition; more innovation drives more products; more advancements foster better tools and systems.

But that's not the case at all when it comes to mobile healthcare apps. In fact, more apps have only caused more confusion, increasingly leery users and more potential for bad experiences, according to a new report from the IMS Institute.

There now are 165,000 mHealth apps (counting both iOS and Android), according to the report, a number destined to grow even more, given a 106 percent jump in Apple apps in just two years. But IMS found that only 26,864 apps are directly related to patient health and treatment. More than half of the apps studied have single functionality and limited value in advancing healthcare outcomes--a finding similar to the institute's initial 2013 report.

Simply, such overwhelming choice is limiting the usefulness, says IMS Institute Executive Director Murray Aitken.

"The biggest hurdle for a patient [or a physician] is sifting through the 165,000 apps out there to find the one that will be useful to them," he told FierceMobileHealthcare in an email interview. "This can present an intimidating number of choices for consumers, leading some to simply select the most popular app and others to try multiple apps in an effort to determine what is best for them."

What's even more disheartening is that just 12 percent of those apps account for more than 90 percent of consumer downloads; of 165,000 apps roughly about 20,000 are in play with consumers, physicians and providers.

Why? In addition to too many choices, there is little to no mechanism for evaluating the efficacy, accuracy and appropriateness, Aitken said.

The good news, however, is that the landscape can change. Platforms for rating, evaluating and, in some cases, certifying apps are becoming available to providers," Aitken said. This will let them be more confident in prescribing apps as part of disease prevention and treatment protocols.

"Moreover, 30-day retention rates for mHealth apps prescribed by a healthcare professional are 10 percent higher than those self-selected by patients," he said. "For prescribed fitness apps, the retention rate is 30 percent higher."

In addition, Aitken said, the healthcare industry, as a whole, is making progress in defining what a valuable mHealth consumer app looks like. He pointed to the advancements in connectivity of sensors, which foster new streams of reliable data collection, emerging evidence (via clinical trials and research) that apps are having a positive impact on patients and an increasing willingness by providers and physicians to include apps into services and patient care.

"But we have a long way to go," Aitken said. "Especially in creating more connectivity between apps and clinical information systems." - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)