At the InterSystems Global Summit a few weeks ago I heard about this new approach to solving medical problems, in lieu of medications. It’s the idea of prescribing behavior to a patient, just the same as a medication would be prescribed. The idea is basically centered around an app store for clinicians. A doctor will issue a prescription for an app, and use the medical app store software to ensure adherence to proper use of the app. The clinician will be notified when the patient installs the app, and will be able to track whether the patient is using the app as it was intended to be used. If the patient is not using the app then appropriate follow up actions can be taken (e.g. text message, phone call). It could be essentially the same workflow that happens today with medication adherence.
This brings up a couple of interesting ideas. One is that our day to day behaviors sometimes lead to improved outcomes (and perhaps more often than not!). If a patient has Type 2 Diabetes then diet and excercise can have tremendous benefit. This particular example is, of course, not a new discovery. The less understood, or perhaps less quantifiable aspect here is the impact from improved emotional health. Does happiness truly help a patient to combat certain diseases? Some researchers think so. In this line of thinking, an app that somehow tracks and improves happiness levels could also be used to collect data correlating to disease outcomes.
Another interesting idea is how this might impact the existing pharma industry. Surely there are still and will remain very valid reasons for and effective outcomes resulting in the prescription of real medications. I am in no way advocating this is a silver bullet, and we do not need medications. However I do know, from personal experience how technology can influence change in habits, for better or for worse. And I also have seen how our culture today readily embraces convenience – people want to have their cake and eat it too. If doctors start prescribing apps, and medication sales decline, pharma might need to rethink its strategy – perhaps it gets in on the app store business.
Although there are clinicians using this now from what I have heard, from the overall industry perspective I believe this is still a medium to long term plan. If I were to guess it would weigh heavily on the fact that there is still a generation gap with technology adoption. All in all the clinician app store approach is all about encouraging the patient by providing motivation to adopt and maintain behaviors that result in better outcomes. And things that improve outcomes are things that I am very much a fan of.