Don’t be surprised if one day soon your doctor ends an appointment saying, “Here’s a prescription for a drug that will help, and download this app.”
Medical apps are turning our phones and tablets into exercise aides, blood pressure monitors and devices that transmit an EKG. But the proliferation of apps is way ahead of tests to determine which ones work.
Christine Porter is hooked on the My Fitness Pal app.
In October, after deciding to lose 50 pounds, Porter started recording everything she eats or drinks and any type of exercise she does.
“It’s telling me I have about 1,200 calories remaining for the day,” Porter said. She took a long walk at lunch and built up some calorie credits so she wouldn’t have to skimp so much at dinner.
Porter heard about the app from her health coach at the Ambulatory Practice of the Future, a primary care clinic for Massachusetts General Hospital employees.
“I usually give patients a choice of several apps that might help them,” said health coach Ryan Sherman. “Some patients won’t even look at them and then others might say, ‘Oh, yeah, this could work for me.’ ”
Increasingly, Sherman says, patients are coming in, pulling out their phones and asking, “Hey, have you seen this one?” The options are both exciting and hard to manage.
“There’s a new one every day so it’s trying to keep up with that,” Sherman said. “And if there’s not one place to look that can be hard.”
Which is one reason doctors at this Mass General clinic are suggesting — but not prescribing — apps. It’s hard to know which of the roughly 40,000 choices work.
Experts who are trying to figure out which apps are safe and effective generally separate them into two categories: those that actually turn your phone into a medical device and everything else. Continue reading