Why doctor-prescribed apps aren't yet showing value

This week, FierceMobileHealthcare reports on a study regarding physician recommendation of a smartphone app and the fact the prescription didn't resonate with patients. It's a unique study because it doesn't dissect whether the app itself works in helping patients lose weight, but how patients view such software prescriptions within healthcare treatment.

The mHealth app didn't fail as a tool overall. Rather, it failed because it didn't engage patients and encourage patients to use the app on a daily and consistent basis. While the lead researcher notes one big reason is the time factor involved in tracking food intake, calories and other dieting-related data, I respectfully disagree.

That's not the primary reason for the app's relative ineffectiveness.

The truth is, we make time for things we think or believe are important. That's the reality. So while a doctor may prescribe a smartphone app for enhanced treatment or efforts such as weight loss, it comes down to the patient's perception of whether such a tool is worth his or her attention and time. Such prescriptions are brand new to patients and far from the "exercise three times a week and drink 8 glasses of water" prescription often given. We know that latter prescription has been verified and validated. Mobile healthcare apps, well not so much.

There are several factors in play regarding the perception of mHealth apps, and time requirements is one. But there are bigger hurdles facing mHealth tech: the learning curve users face with apps and mobile devices, the fear of data being collected and somehow used by unauthorized parties and trust in the technology being recommended.

Unfortunately all of those issues land at the feet of app developers, designers, manufacturers and the companies behind the tools. Some are healthcare industry players, but most are not. Some know user engagement and enticement are key to app embracement (the gaming industry is a clear example), others have no clue or do not understand the necessity of both those elements.

The app used in the study does a good job at engaging patients and providing needed features, such as social networking, but it too also needs to boost its attributes to be a valuable addition to users' lives. Healthcare presents a very unique user-base that requires app makers go the extra mile to spur adoption and trust. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)