Two digital health leaders at Johns Hopkins have identified the characteristics that separate a useful health app from the rest. “We brainstormed what we call the requirements for prescription-strength apps,” says Paul Nagy, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Technology Innovation Center, “meaning the apps that a provider would recommend or suggest because they complement or improve patient care.”
Nagy devised the components with Alain Labrique, epidemiologist and founder of the Global mHealth Initiative, a Johns Hopkins University effort to improve global health by developing responsive innovations and providing evidence-based support for mobile information and communication technologies. The four ingredients of a “prescription-strength” medical app include:
A wearables component. By combining an app with a wearable such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch, the need for patients to log their data is lessened, says Nagy. This data can automatically go to the cloud and then to an electronic medical record (EMR), where a clinician could find and review it.
Integration with EMRs. Ideally, a health app would send data to an EMR as well as receive data from an EMR. This way, the information in the health app and the patient’s EMR would match and the patient wouldn’t have to enter the same information into the app. Examples of data delivered from an EMR include medications and appointments.
A capability to share information with family, friends or other patients. Support from family, friends or other patients is a major motivator for patients’ compliance and adherence to a treatment program, says Nagy. A “prescription-strength” medical app should allow patients to define and use their social care team so they can have support available when they need it.
Interaction with a health care provider. For the best possible health outcomes, a health care provider would be able to connect with patients between appointments. After reviewing data from a wearable, for example, a clinician could interpret the information and make recommendations for possible interventions.
Currently, very few apps incorporate more than one of these features. “It’s hard to do,” says Nagy. “It requires having an app with a care team behind it that has altered the way they do things in order to support the app. But that is what we feel should be done at an academic medical center like Johns Hopkins.”