Study Names Top Apps for Patients to Manage Illnesses

November 07, 2017

Healthcare apps for patients are growing not only in number but also in their ability to improve clinical outcomes and reduce costs, according to a report released today by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science that describes the maturation of digital health.

The evidence for the usefulness of this technology also has grown, stated the IQVIA Institute, formerly the IMS Institute.

"While it may still take 10 years for digital health to become mainstream for most provider organizations, the direction is clear, and the pace of adoption of these tools is accelerating," said Murray Aitken, the IQVIA Institute's executive director, in a news briefing last week.

Top clinically rated apps for patients to manage their conditions include those for cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, according to IQVIA.

The number of healthcare apps has increased from 165,000 in 2015 to 315,000 in 2017, with 200 apps debuting each day on the Apple Store and Google Play. Most of them still belong in the "wellness" category, catering to individuals who want to track their jogging, food intake, and sleep, for example. However, the percentage of apps focused on health conditions and patient care has increased from 27% to 40% in 2 years' time.

Forty-one apps with at least 10 million downloads each account for almost half of the download volume. Eighty-five percent of all healthcare apps have fewer than 5000 downloads.

IQVIA is one of several companies that rate healthcare apps to help clinicians prescribe the right one. Other companies in this space include SocialWellth, iMedicalApps, and iGetBetter. IQVIA scores apps with a proprietary system that reflects patient ratings; endorsements or approvals by healthcare providers, regulators, and health content publishers; software features and updates; recommendations by clinicians through the company's AppScript mobile app; and a clinical rating of all peer-reviewed articles about an app's value in patient care.

The firm calculated an AppScript score for all free and publicly available health apps and determined the top 12. It also scored apps solely on the basis of their clinical rating and produced a top 15 list for wellness and prevention, condition management, and prescription management (2 of the 15 overlapped with the other list). Roughly half of the apps in this clinically rated group are not sold directly to the public but are available to patients only through a third-party payer or healthcare provider.

Table 1. Top Clinically Rated Apps for Wellness and Prevention

Category App Maker
Exercise FitBit FitBit
Healthy eating and weight management Noom Coach: Health and Weight Noom
Stress management Headspace Headspace
Smoking cessation Clickotine Click Therapeutics
Alcohol moderation Drinkaware Drinkaware Trust
Source: IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science

Table 2. Top Clinically Rated Apps for Condition Management

Condition App Maker
Alcohol and substance abuse Pear reSet Pear Therapeutics
Diabetes prevention Omada Omada Health
Diabetes BlueStar Diabetes WellDoc
Atrial fibrillation screening and dysrhythmias Kardia AliveCor
Hypertension Twine-Collaborative Care Twine Health
Cardiac rehabilitation Healarium (Mayo Clinic Instance) Apollo Medical Holdings
Cancer MoovCare Sivan Innovations
Asthma Propeller Health Reciprocal Labs dba Propeller Health
Source: IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science

Table 3. Top Clinically Rated Apps for Prescription Filling and Compliance

Condition App Maker
Medication refills Walgreens Walgreens
Medication management AiCure AiCure
Source: IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science

Avoiding Hospital Visits, Reducing Costs

The pace of research on healthcare apps has quickened, according to IQVIA. The number of clinical trials examining the effectiveness of the technology has increased from roughly 300 in 2015 to more than 860 underway now worldwide. Their sponsors, by and large, are universities, hospitals, health systems, and other provider organizations, "demonstrating the increased efforts to fit digital health into clinical practice." Remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions is a central theme.

Likewise, the number of published studies on app efficacy has grown to 571, 234 of them based on randomized controlled trials. Of the top 25 apps identified in 2017, 80% are backed by at least one observational study that demonstrates their effectiveness.

In turn, healthcare apps have enriched clinical research. Fifty-five percent of the 34 most downloaded apps are linked to biosensors — typically incorporated into wearables, such as wristbands — that capture vital signs and other health information. They can "improve clinical trial design by enabling the collection of patient experience data in the 'real world,' " the IQVIA report said.

The firm calculates a potential payoff for healthcare apps that's music to a healthcare reformer's ears. IQVIA looked at published research showing how certain health apps in five categories — diabetes prevention, diabetes care, asthma, cardiac rehabilitation, and pulmonary rehabilitation — helped patients avoid a trip to the hospital. It extrapolated the savings to all patients who could benefit from those apps and came up with a figure of $7 billion a year.  If the healthcare industry could duplicate this performance with apps across all disease categories, the savings would come to $46 billion a year.

The IQVIA report is available on the company website.

Follow Robert Lowes on Twitter @LowesRobert



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