Doctors rate and recommend mobile apps for consumers, but none of the reviews are negative.
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HealthTap, an online service that enables patients to ask doctors health-related questions for free, has launched AppRx, a new mobile health app review service. Its 40,000-plus physicians can review or rate any of the roughly 40,000 mobile health apps available in the iTunes and Google online stores.
HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman told InformationWeek Healthcare that thousands of physicians are already participating. To make it easier for doctors to find apps that might interest them, the company has written brief descriptions of the consumer programs and has slotted them into 30 categories on its website. These include both "health" apps, such as fitness, wellness and sleep apps, and "medical" apps, such as programs that help people manage asthma or pregnancy.
In addition, the company uses its knowledge of the physicians' specialties and areas of expertise to suggest apps that they might want to try, Gutman said.
To ensure quality control, a medical review board evaluates a doctor's first 30 app reviews before they are posted. Afterward, doctors are free to post reviews on their own.
The mobile health app categorization is similar to the structure that HealthTap uses to help consumers ask questions. However, Gutman said, physicians cannot use HealthTap to "prescribe" apps to patients, just as they can't prescribe medications or give specific medical advice to consumers. "We are recommending apps, not prescribing them to a specific person," he said. "This is just education at large."
The majority of apps reviewed on the HealthTap site are free. Gutman doesn't deny that the doctor reviewers are biased toward free apps, but he views that as a strength of the service. "We want to keep it as close as possible to the consumer experience. If a developer decides to charge for a certain app, it creates a barrier. If it's worth it, the consumer will buy the app, and so will the doctor."
There are no negative reviews of apps on the HealthTap site. "We decided we'd take a positive approach and let the community as a whole decide what they don't like," rather than allowing individual doctors to criticize particular apps, Gutman said. What this means is that physicians can either recommend or skip an app. If consumers don't see a particular app reviewed on the site, that probably means that no physicians liked it, he added.
While it's possible that some meritorious apps could get passed over as a result, he noted, their developers are free to bring them to the HealthTap physicians' attention. The entire physician directory is publicly available, he said, and all of the reviewers are identified by name.
For the past year or so, it was not HealthTap, but another company named Happtique that gained attention for its plan to review mobile health apps for consumers. In February, Happtique, a subsidiary of the Greater New York Hospital Association's for-profit division, published the final standards in its ambitious certification program, and it is now accepting medical education and nursing apps for certification. After a recent shakeup at the company, questions were raised about Happtique's commitment to this program, but the company told MobiHealth News that it was still on track.
Gutman said he was unfamiliar with Happtique's plans and that they had nothing to do with HealthTap's decision to branch into mobile app reviews. "This takes a long time to put together from a technical perspective and a community building perspective. We waited for the right timing to come out with this."
HealthTap recently received $24 million in its second round of venture capital funding. Among the investors: Khosla Ventures, Mayfield Fund, Mohr Davidow Ventures, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Mohr Davidow and Esther Dyson.
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