Prescribable apps: Tap two and call me in the morning

The BBC reports that an upcoming UK initiative will encourage physicians to prescribe mobile apps:

At an event showcasing the best ideas for new and existing health smartphone apps, the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “So many people use apps every day to keep up with their friends, with the news, find out when the next bus will turn up or which train to catch…

…Innovation and technology can revolutionise the health service, and we are looking at how the NHS can use these apps for the benefit of patients, including how GPs could offer them for free.”

Mr. Lansley mentioned controlling blood pressure, finding services, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as targets for apps he would like to see “become the norm.” In the United States, a healthcare app store called Happtique (developed by the business division of the Greater New York Hospital Association) hopes to encourage app prescriptions with vetted technology and a turnkey prescribing platform, according to eWeek:

Happtique launched the mRx trial to see if a prescribing app and catalog of mobile tools would increase the use of mobile apps in doctors’ care routines.

“We want to test whether health professionals, when provided with the prescribing technology and a vetted app catalog, will actually integrate apps into their delivery of health care,” [Ben] Chodor [CEO of Happtique] told eWEEKin an email. “Additionally, we want to test whether patients, when provided with an app as part of their health care treatment, prevention and wellness plan, will download the app as prescribed.”

The program will train doctors and specialists in how to integrate the apps into their treatment of patients. As the trial progresses, Happtique will build a catalog of five to 10 apps for both the Apple iOS and Google Android platforms.

Announced May 9, the trial will recruit doctors with a specialty in treating heart disease, diabetes and musculoskeletal conditions. Happtique will also look for physical therapists and trainers to test health and fitness apps.

On the other side of the equation, a blogger at Forbes maintains that prescribable apps could actually represent a threat to pharmaceutical companies:

A program such as Happtique’s can be either a huge opportunity or a huge threat depending on how they handle it. Over the last several months, I have had many meetings with leaders of pharma companies that are eerily reminiscent of meetings I had in the latter half of the 90′s with newspaper executives.

Without much hard evidence on the effectiveness of mobile apps, such predictions seem somewhat premature, but with the growing adoption of smartphones and other mobile devices worldwide, mHealth (healthcare supported by mobile devices) is definitely a field to watch.