The Choice of Using Health Care Apps

Some physicians are finding it's easier to explain a diagnosis to patients if they have an app nearby to help.

As mobile technology continues to grow in leaps and bounds, new health care apps seem to surface every day. The conundrum for physicians in this expanding playing field is deciding which health care apps are most appropriate to use.

Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all mobile health solution, but Charles Antonini, MD, a California-based internist, says there’s a key criteria that all physicians should employ.

“As a family practitioner, and a solo practitioner, I’m not looking for something that’s going to be complicated,” Antonini says. “I want something that’s going to be easy for me to use, easy for my patients to understand, so I can use it for educational purposes — both for myself as well as my patients.”

A starting point

Antonini says that the app he uses most often on both his iPad and iPhone is Epocrates. It was the first medical app he ever used, and now he encourages his fellow physicians to do the same.

“It’s simple to use, very constructive, and gives me the information I need for my practice,” Antonini says.

However, he also uses what he refers to as “anatomical teaching apps” that enable him to educate patients about their treatment. For instance, a patient feeling pain when he walks might not understand if Antonini explains he has some “vascular obstruction in the iliac artery.” But an app could help the patient comprehend the diagnosis.

“If I pull out my iPad and show him a video of blood flow going through a vessel that might be obstructed, it puts the patient more at ease,” Antonini says. “He understands what the process is and what the treatment modality might be.”

Antonini says there is a definite learning curve as far as integrating the use of mobile health apps into his practice, and sometimes he’ll download an app and find that it isn’t very useful.

“It’s a trial-and-error process until you find the ones that will help you the most,” he says. “But it’s very important that I have apps that patients can learn from and therefore make the quality of my practice better.”

Familiarity of an old friend

Bob Kernen, vice president of product for HCPlexus, agrees that mobile health apps need to be easy to use while increasing physicians’ productivity. Last year, the company took The Little Blue Book, possibly the most trusted physician referral directory over the last 23 years, and launched a digital version (TLBBMobile) for Apple and Blackberry devices.

“Doctors live in the 24 by 7 world, so for them it’s very handy to be able to pull out their mobile device and connect with any colleague they need,” Kernen explains. “Also, one thing we know about physician data is that it decays rapidly — doctors move around, they change offices and they change practices. With the mobile version of [The Little Blue Book] we’re able to provide them with data that’s updated on a much more regular basis.”

Kernen agrees with Antonini that a mobile health app needs to be easy to use and easily integrated into a physician’s daily workflow. He says that when it comes to many EMR systems, the learning curve is steep, as is the investment in both capital and training. When TLBBMobile was developed, the emphasis was on making it intuitive.

“We knew that the people who would use the app were those who were familiar with [the print version of] The Little Blue Book, so we wanted to make sure they didn’t have to relearn anything,” Kernen says. “As we progress, we’re introducing new ideas and elements that will, over time, make [the mobile version] less like the print book, but we want to do that in a very gradual way so we don’t disrupt anyone’s workflow.”

A personal decision

Antonini suggests that physicians who are considering integrating a mobile health app into their practice read the various reviews and focus on an app that will be simple but also very useful.

Echoing those thoughts, Kernen says that physicians should consider how they might integrate a mobile health app into their practice.

“At the end of the day, that’s a very personal decision,” he says. “It’s your mobile device, and for most people these days, it’s an extension of you. You have to think about how it fits into your life, because the worst technology in the world is technology that forces you to adapt to it. There’s nothing worse than that. And we work hard to make sure the tail is not wagging the dog.”