Hottest -- and Coolest -- Trends That Will Change Your Practice in 2013

Neil Chesanow


March 13, 2013

In This Article


With all the challenges facing doctors in the coming year, you'll need to find ways to see more people and do an even better job of monitoring patients with chronic conditions without becoming a basket case yourself. Happily, many new developments and inventions are making inroads to make this possible. Some are already here; others are growing fast. Which are the hottest -- and coolest -- of these practice-changing trends? Let's take a look.

Doctors Start to "Prescribe" Apps to Patients

More than 20,000 mobile apps are now available to help patients do everything from managing their glucose to counting their carbs or telling them when they've had too much to drink. This year, it may be possible for doctors to prescribe these apps as they now prescribe pills.

So far, doctors have been in no rush to recommend apps for patients. One reason: the off-putting number of titles. Happtique, an online clearinghouse for health-related apps, offers over 10,000 titles in 300 clinical categories. There are over 200 unrated apps just for managing type 2 diabetes.

Concerns about app quality and authority have also held doctors back. Although 21 apps on Happtique's site are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most of the rest haven't undergone independent third-party review. But in 2013, Happtique will introduce an app certification program to set standards for safety, operability, privacy, and content.

Happtique is also rolling out a pilot program to make it easy for healthcare providers to choose, use, and rate apps. The focus is on cardiology, rheumatology, endocrinology, orthopedics, physical therapy, and fitness training apps. The firm is seeking 50 practitioners in each field to take part, although other providers can participate too. A downloadable application is available on the Happtique Website.

But even as the wheat gets weeded from the chaff among apps, a final barrier remains to physician buy-in: reimbursement. Right now, there is none. "People must be incentivized to use apps," says David Lee Scher, MD, Happtique's senior medical advisor and director of DLS Healthcare Consulting in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. "I foresee payers incentivizing patients by decreasing their premiums or deductibles or both, as is already happening with wellness apps." He also foresees selected apps being added to health plan formularies. "This will dictate which apps will be reimbursed to the provider, hospital, or patient."

Some studies on whether the use of mobile apps really leads to health improvement have been conducted in the United States, Europe, and Asia. For example, one study published in 2012 validated a scoliometer smartphone app to assess scoliosis. Another assessed factors affecting adoption of mobile diabetes monitoring among physicians. Many more studies on apps in healthcare are in the works.