Mobile health apps are becoming more common. They can help patients change their habits, and they also gather a huge amount of data on personal health. There are some concerns in the health care industry over whether these apps are trustworthy enough to handle all of the information they gather. In a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Adam C. Powell and his colleagues estimated the number of health, fitness and medical apps available tops 40,000 – and the market is only growing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims regulatory oversight over mobile health apps tied to medical devices, but there is no oversight at all for those apps that collect and organize data about health activities, provider information and more. Weight-loss apps are an example of this kind of program. They ask users to enter a food and exercise diary and calculate progress toward particular goals, and this information is not gathered or overseen by any agency.

Powell and the other authors of the article in JAMA believe mobile health apps can improve patient outcomes and be important tools in patient care. However, before physicians recommend these apps to their patients, they should consider which ones have the best potential and safety measures.

Apps that might help patient outcomes
The market for mobile health apps is huge, but one of the most common reasons people use them is to manage their eating and exercise habits. There is some evidence that apps of this nature could be useful in weight management – many use smartphones' accelerometers as pedometers, and a 2008 study in The Annals of Family Medicine suggests the use of a pedometer in an exercise program can lead to an average weight loss of 0.05 kilograms per week, for example. Mobile health apps aren't reviewed or studied on a large scale, which is understandable given how many there are, but physicians can seek out apps that use features that are evidence-based, such as pedometers or food logs.

There are also apps that help patients with chronic conditions manage and log their symptoms and treatments, which can be helpful both for patients themselves and their physicians. Some apps offer patients the option to send their information directly to their health care providers, which may be a helpful intervention in many cases.

Digital society, digital medicine
Encouraging patients to adopt mobile health apps where appropriate may increase patient satisfaction. Society is increasingly digital, and patients tend to expect their health care will follow suit. Higher rates of patient satisfaction, and potentially better outcomes, can lead to better revenue cycle management. Retention and pay-for-performance deals with payers are both key components in keeping a practice financially sound.