Few physicians recommend mobile health apps to patients. The main reasons, observers and doctors say, are lack of time, lack of information about which apps are reliable, concerns about liability and insufficient evidence that apps improve health.
A 2015 survey by Manhattan Research estimated that one third of doctors recommended wellness apps to their patients, and half of those physicians simply advised patients to shop in app stores. The proportion of doctors who do so hasn’t changed much in the past few years, says Brian Clancy, a spokesman for IMS Health, which rates apps and provides a mechanism for physicians to recommend them.
HOT TOPIC: It's a mistake if you aren't on social media
Medhavi Jogi, MD, a Houston endocrinologist, has cut back on his app suggestions. For patient education, Jogi says, “The handout is way cheaper and uses less of my staff time, and I can put the link on my website.”
Other physicians say that mobile apps have benefited some of their patients. For example, Jeffrey Livingston, MD, a Dallas-based OB/GYN, praises a fitness app that he says has helped some patients lose weight. Meanwhile, some healthcare systems and academic medical centers continue to push the use of the technology with their own app stores and, in some cases, internally developed apps.
But even if physicians aren’t convinced that mobile health (mHealth) apps are worthwhile, many of their patients are. Fifty-eight percent of mobile phone users have downloaded at least one mHealth app, and 41% have downloaded more than five apps, according to a 2015 survey by researchers at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. The vast majority of these consumers use the apps to track their exercise and diet, lose weight and/or to learn exercises.