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Health care apps: Easy to use, but are they really useful?

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Mobile applications, a hot technology with vast potential to transform health care delivery, are not yet ready for prime time. People that have most needs, ailing patients 65 and older, have the most limited access

That was the conclusion of a study by IMS Healthcare Informatics, a Parsippany-based health care information provider, which says the novel technology has yet to show evidence of improved health outcomes.

The report studied more than 40,000 apps and said several obstacles need to be crossed before the technology reaches full maturity.

Among the barriers cited by IMS:

n Most apps do not address the greatest need in health care — patients who face multiple chronic diseases and are typically aged 65 and older — but instead focus on general wellness, such as diet and exercise, aimed at younger consumers.

n The elder population, the biggest health care spenders, are also the least digitally savvy. Only about 18 percent of people aged 65 and older have smartphones, the report said. Deeper penetration among this segment is needed to create health advances, IMS said. That is expected to happen in coming years as more technologically adept generations retire. Among consumers aged 45 to 54, IMS says 55 percent have smartphones.

n Doctors are hesitant to recommend health care apps to their patients without credible evidence they work.

IMS said more objective research is needed on the effectiveness of apps, as well as establishment of professional guidelines and privacy protection practices. Doctors and patients also need more guidance in navigating the dizzying array of apps, IMS said.

The study also concluded most apps contain limited functionality and provide little more than information. IMS says more investment is needed to produce genuine breakthroughs.

"Meeting these preconditions will accelerate the movement of apps use from that of a novelty into the mainstream of healthcare — and realizing their full potential in the years ahead," the report concludes.

The report also concludes that momentum favors the acceptance of apps. Recent Food and Drug Administration guidelines stating how the agency will regulate apps — the FDA says it will focus on a limited apps that function like medical devices and can harm a patient is misused — will provide more clarity for physicians and patients.

IMS stresses health care apps are not intended to replace doctors. But the technology can do good things ranging from assisting patients with preventative measures to helping patients adhere to prescriptions.

"Apps are not a substitute for doctor's visits but they can supplement and complement the delivery of health care," said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

The full report is available at theimsinstitute.org

E-mail to: tomz@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @biztzanki

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