Report Lists Best Healthcare Apps for Consumers

November 04, 2013

A new report culls through more than 40,000 mobile apps related to healthcare and identifies several dozen top programs for consumers that help them manage diabetes, monitor skin moles, and remind them to take their medications.

Such apps are on the verge of becoming mainstream health aids that physicians and other clinicians routinely recommend to patients, according to the report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. These programs can "play a role that leads to lower costs and better outcomes," said Murray Aitken, a study coauthor and the institute's executive director.

However, mobile healthcare apps first will have to clear some hurdles, which include physicians' fear of getting overloaded with vital-sign data generated by remote monitoring.

The study, released last week, examined almost 44,000 mobile apps in the English-language US iTunes store listed under either "healthcare and fitness" or "medical." Of these apps, roughly 20,000 were excluded because they made apparently bogus claims, focused on beauty and fashion, and otherwise failed to truly relate to healthcare. Another 7400 were on target but were intended for healthcare professionals.

That left almost 16,300 legitimate healthcare apps for consumers. Two in 3 could provide information in the form of text, photos, or video. Aitken and study coauthor Carolyn Gauntlett, however, looked to see if the apps performed other valuable functions:

  • Provide instructions to the user

  • Capture user-entered data

  • Graphically display user-entered or output data

  • Provide medical guidance based on user-entered data

  • Provide reminders

  • Communicate with healthcare professionals

On a functionality scale of 0 to 100, more than 90% of the apps scored 40 or lower.

In grading the apps, Aitken and Gauntlett also factored in user friendliness as measured by the number of reviews that an app receives in iTunes as well as its star rating. Crunching the numbers this way yielded apps with "strong functionality combined with ease of use" in 12 categories, some of which are represented below. The apps are listed in alphabetical order.

Table 1. Top Mobile Apps for Diabetes

App Name Developer
Daily Carb (carbohydrate, glucose, medication, blood pressure, and exercise tracker) Maxwell Software
Glucose Buddy (diabetes logbook manager with syncing, blood pressure and weight tracking) Azumio
GoMeals (meal tracker) Sanofi-Aventis

Source: Patient Apps for Improved Healthcare, IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics


Table 2. Top Mobile Apps for Oncology

App Developer
Dr. K's Breast Checker Lingopal Holdings
PCR Tracker Cheryl-Anne Simoneau
SkinKeeper The Health Safari

Source: Patient Apps for Improved Healthcare, IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics


Table 3. Top Mobile Apps for Women's Health

App Developer
Ovulation Calendar Ladytimer Free
Period Diary (period, fertility and ovulation tracker)
Pregnancy Tracker from Everyday Health

Source: Patient Apps for Improved Healthcare, IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics


Table 4. Top Mobile Apps for Prescription Compliance

App Developer
Dosecast Montuno Software
Pill Monitor Free(medication reminders and logs) Maxwell Software
RxmindMe (prescription/medicine reminder and pill tracker) Walgreen

Source: Patient Apps for Improved Healthcare, IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics


The Two Most Downloaded Android Apps Count Calories

The study by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics also analyzed mobile health apps for consumers that are available from Google Play, the online store for apps based on the Android operating system. Again, the authors found a low proportion of wheat to chaff, with more than 50% of the apps having been downloaded fewer than 500 times. Only 2% of apps were downloaded more than 100,000 times, and 5 healthcare apps alone accounted 15% of an estimated 660 million downloads from Google Play.

Table 5. Most Downloaded Mobile Healthcare Apps for Consumers at Google Play

App Developer
Calorie Counter-MyFitnessPal MyFitnessPal
Calorie Counter FatSecret
Cardiograph MacroPinch
My Tracks (walking, running, biking) Google
Period Calendar/Tracker Abishkking

Source: IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics


Aitken told Medscape Medical News that corresponding download data was not available from the Apple iTunes store. However, based on what outside experts report, it's also probably the case that 5 healthcare apps represent roughly 15% of downloads, whether consumers are visiting the iTunes or Google Play store, said Aitken.

Are Physicians "App" to Be Sued?

 Physicians generally view mobile healthcare apps for patients as promising.

"What they like is that they help patients become more engaged with their own health," said Aitken. "That's the first thing we heard from them."

However, physicians are not yet recommending mobile healthcare apps to patients on an everyday basis. Like consumers, they're overwhelmed by the number of apps available and uncertain about their usefulness, according to the study by Aitken and Gauntlett.

"Physicians will be more inclined to prescribe mobile apps once they have evidence that they work," Aitken told Medscape Medical News. "There's a critical need for more clinical trials."

Other barriers include:

Data privacy and security: If a mobile healthcare app transmits patient data to an electronic health record (EHR) system, will the data remain safe en route? Will the transmission comply with HIPAA?

Medical liability: Physicians worry that if they recommend an app that has negative repercussions for a patient, they could be sued for malpractice. The IMS Institute study envisions that physicians would prescribe only those apps that have been recommended by their organization's chief medical information officer and vetted by its legal team.

Infrastructure for app prescriptions: Right now many physicians with an app to suggest simply write its name down on a piece of paper. A better method would be to send the app prescription directly from an app formulary to the patient's smartphone or tablet.

Reimbursement: Roughly 1 in 2 mobile healthcare apps for consumers are free, but some cost more than $100. Will insurers foot the bill for patients?

In addition, will physicians get paid for reviewing patient data that streams into their EHR system from mobile apps? Right now, there's generally no extra pay for that task. However, Aitken said that as the healthcare system transitions from fee-for-service to pay-for-performance, reimbursement for data review will be less of an issue.

Two of the mobile healthcare apps for consumers that are ranked top-of-line by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics were developed by WebMD, which operates


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