The number of apps over the past 5 years has exploded for both healthcare professionals and patients, alike. We are talking exponential growth. A recent count of the iTunes app store identified more than 13,000 healthcare and "wellness" apps! To help control this influx of apps the FDA has actually inserted itself and defined a difference between a "health" app and a "wellness" app.
A health app is categorized by the FDA as mobile software that diagnoses, tracks or treats disease.
A wellness app is mobile software that enhances or tracks the overall health of the user.
That said, there is a ton of crossover between the 2 classes e.g. a calorie counter that can then make recommendations about how to adjust your intake or a BP tracker that alerts you to call your physician when there are too many consecutive high numbers.
A relatively quick and easy way to identify successful patient apps is to check out which patient-centered apps have the most downloads in the iTunes Store and peruse the reviews written by patients (often the younger set). Here are some apps that I feel have transcended the niche medical category and gone into the widely used & useful category:
1. WebMD - This is the one of the major categories of patient apps - EDUCATION (the other categories would be DATA RECORDING/TRACKING, and the last would be MANAGEMENT). It's easy to use, full of reliable information, has a trusted brand, and offers side tools like a pill identifier. Oh yeah, and it's FREE and available for iPhone and Androids.
2. iTriage - A cool and rather progressive app that allows patients to find the nearest ERs and can often provide estimated waiting times (altho the accuracy on that is questionable). It also serves as a crude diagnostic tool when you provide symptoms and gives a ton of reference information on medications, procedures, conditions etc. It is FREE and available for both platforms.
3. BP Monitor or BP Tracker by HeartWise - Probably the most success I've had, from a personal standpoint, in getting my patients to use apps. While there are BP cuffs available at Walgreens and the Apple Store (http://store.apple.com/us/product/HB134ZM/A/ihealth-wireless-blood-pressure-monitor) that hook into the iPhone directly or wirelessly, the most common BP apps just serve as a substitute for the yellow legal pad on which most people record their daily reading. The benefit of these BP trackers is that they can be exported rather easily in graphic or tabulr form to the doctor by email or printed out in a presentable fashion. My patients that use them, love them.
4. Glucose Companion or one of the numerous other glucose/calorie tracking apps. There are several and they serve a similar purpose to the HTN apps listed above. Recently, apps like WellDoc are attempting to integrate their data with existing EHRs - and have been successful, improving the management of patients while physically seeing them less!
5. Gazelle - For many of us specialists, keeping track of patients labs' are a chronic issue and patients are often inconvenienced by the fact that we dont do labs in our office and often dont get copies of their recent bloodwork. This app by Quest Diagnostics allows pts to make appointments online and track their lab data and keep it on their phone!!!
6. Pill Reminder - Medication adherence has been identified by the mobile medical community as one of the low hanging fruits that we can address using these devices. This app by Drugs.com attempts to achieve success in this space. Logically, it sends reminders when to take meds as well as when you might need a refill and provides a drug reference geared towards patients.
7. My Fitness Pal or Calorie Counter - There are numerous apps in this space and I havent had time to sort thru all of them but they all attempt to acheive the same goal - provide the patient with info so that they may make healthful changes. Some even make recommendations. They vary is their ease of use and some will interface with a wearable device (FitBit or Nike product) that count your steps and monitor your breathing while you sleep giving you biofeedback info as well.
8. Google app - Still and likely always, the most common resource for health information. The results sometimes may be muddled but overall it often serves as a wonderful resource for information.
9. ZocDoc - For patients who are likely more progressive and do everything online. This app allows patients to find doctors in their area, put in their insurance info, and actually book an appointment online.