In this interview with Dr. John Torous, he perfectly describes the current digital health app market:
There are some useful apps currently available today that many patients would benefit from — and there are also some frightening ones that no one should ever use. Jennifer Nicholas of the Black Dog Institute in Australia published a paper looking at the quality of apps for bipolar disorder on the Apple and Android app stores. The results were not encouraging and to use the words from her paper, “the content of currently available apps for bipolar disorder is not in line with practice guidelines or established self-management principles.” She even found one app telling patients to drink hard alcohol if they had trouble falling asleep. Researchers have revealed similar findings for apps offering to help with substance abuse, suicide, anxiety, and depression.
We know there are many great apps out there, but there are a lot more unhelpful and even dangerous ones out there too.
This is exactly the problem today. Although, it’s worth noting Dr. Torous’ cautious words “would benefit from”. He didn’t say that digital health apps would cure disease, prevent mental health issues, solve health problems, or some other stronger statement. However, digital health apps could provide some benefit.
Although, he also points out that many of them shouldn’t be used at all. In fact, many of them could be doing a lot of damage. That’s a scary thought.
Most of the digital health apps I’ve seen are quite benign. They may not produce the desired results, but they also aren’t going to really harm a patient either. That’s the good thing, but it’s going to change. In order to differentiate themselves, these apps are going to have to do more. Along with that curve, we’re going to have plenty of digital health apps selling the digital health “snake oil” which has become so popular since the AMA talked about EHRs as digital “snake oil.”
Considering how most providers are approaching digital health, I’m not afraid that they’ll get hit with digital snake oil health apps. However, most of these apps are going straight to the consumer. That means that doctors have to know about the apps that do work, but also the apps their patients are using on their own. That’s going to make for an extremely hard situation for doctors. My guess is most will just set aside any apps they don’t know about as risky, but that has its own danger.
Regardless of whether a clinic wants to deal with digital health apps or not, they’re coming and your patients will be using them. It behooves every clinic to think about their digital health strategy.