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Online Program Lets Docs 'Prescribe' mHealth Apps

Happtique mRx program lets physicians send apps directly to patients' smartphones and tablets, or refer them to Apple store.

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Happtique, a mobile health application store aimed primarily at healthcare providers, plans to launch an mRx program that will give hospitals and physicians a mechanism for prescribing mHealth apps to patients. Following a two-month pilot this summer, Happtique expects to launch its patent-pending mRx technology in the marketplace.

The company plans to enroll about 100 physicians across the country in the pilot, according to Ben Chodor, CEO of Happtique, in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. These doctors will include specialists in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. They will prescribe mHealth apps suggested by Happtique, although they can add others. If an app is in the Android or HTML5 format, a doctor can send it directly to patients' smartphones or tablets. If it is in the iOS format, the physician can use mRx to send an email to the patient's device directing him or her to the Apple App Store.

"One thing we want to find in our pilot is when a physician prescribes an app to a patient, how likely are they to download the app?" said Chodor. "We're not doing a 6-month trial to prove outcomes; we're just trying to prove whether doctors will deliver apps to their patients and whether patients will download them."

[ Which medical apps are doctors and patients turning to? Read 9 Mobile Health Apps Worth A Closer Look. ]

A subsidiary of GNYHA Ventures, the business arm of the Greater New York Hospital Association, Happtique was originally formed to help hospitals distribute both homegrown and commercial apps to their medical staffs. The profusion of medical and healthcare apps in the market led Happtique to begin "curating" the programs--i.e., classifying them into categories for various conditions and specialties. At this point, Chodor noted, Happtique has catalogued 13,000 iOS apps alone in about 300 categories.

Recently, Happtique branched into the certification of mHealth apps to assure potential users that they include no malware, that they're secure, that they do what their developers claim, and that they come from reliable sources, Chodor said.

Over the past six months, a four-person advisory panel that includes a doctor, a nurse, a technologist, and a patient representative has drawn up draft certification guidelines that will soon be issued. Following a public comment period, Happtique plans to release the final guidelines later this summer. At that point, Chodor said, app developers will be able to submit products to Happtique for certification. The company itself will not certify any apps, however; physicians in relevant specialties will do that.

The mRx program is the next step beyond curation and certification, Chodor said. He explained that it meets a need among hospitals and physicians to connect with patients "for better outcomes and adherence and better health. Plus patients are running to their physicians and saying, 'I'm looking at these apps, which apps should I use?' For example, there are hundreds of glucose monitoring apps. How can anyone cut through that clutter?"

According to a recent report by Chilmark Research, very few providers are prescribing mHealth apps to patients--an activity the report calls "care provisioning." While some pilots are going on, "nobody has done any broad rollout of an mHealth application for care provisioning," Chilmark President John Moore told InformationWeek Healthcare.

The biggest reason, observers say, is that most providers are not yet being reimbursed for non-visit care. In addition, hospital IT departments have a lot of other priorities right now. But the interest in patient engagement is increasing as healthcare providers ramp up for accountable care.

Many providers are ready for mRx now, Chodor said, but they lack a mechanism to prescribe apps to patients. "Today, if you asked a doctor for an app, he'd suggest a few websites or maybe send you to iTunes or Google Play. There's no mechanism for a doctor to deliver an app to your inbox with a couple of clicks."

Chodor noted that many hospitals are already building their own mobile apps. "Some of those apps are clinician only; a lot of them are patient-facing apps." He cited one healthcare system with 60,000 diabetic patients that is excited about mRx because it will help them engage this population.

Eventually, he predicted, "Physicians and institutions will create app formularies. Not only are they going to prescribe drugs, but they'll prescribe apps, whether they're for smoking cessation, diet, or blood pressure."

Only some mHealth apps are free; patients will have to pay for many others, Chodor admitted. But he believes that patients will understand that. In the long term, he said, "the majority of apps are going to be reimbursed or paid for or sponsored by" some entity. Pharmaceutical companies, he added, are building apps of their own that promote better adherence to medications.

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User Rank: Apprentice
6/25/2012 | 3:09:41 PM
re: Online Program Lets Docs 'Prescribe' mHealth Apps
Hospitals have the technology to complete this implementation then they should. I think that the pilot period will certainly determine if there is a market for apps like this that will get used by patients. This also opens up a whole new facet of mobile applications to be developed. Maybe they should run their pilot with emergency room, instead of just specialists. That produces a more accurate level of commitment by the patients. It seems like they have yet to figure out how to collect for non-visits of patients due to these applications. If I could sit at home and run an application on my phone rather than sit in a Dr. office for 2 hours, I am going with the phone. I am excited to see the results of this roll out and see if it will be successful and cost effective.

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
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