The Promise of Clinical Management Apps

Clinical management apps, mobile apps that allow patients and providers to work together to manage chronic diseases, have the ability to improve access to care, control costs and reduce health disparities, according to a Commonwealth Fund report.

Although just 19 percent of smartphone owners have a healthcare app on their phone, more than half (52 percent) have looked for health information on their device. Additionally, traditionally underserved populations are the most likely to use their phones to look for health information and to have a healthcare app on their phone. High smartphone penetration in underserved communities presents an opportunity to use mobile technology and apps to improve care delivery in these areas, easing the burden on area providers and improving outcomes.

Asthma and diabetes management apps hold particular promise, as these two conditions have been shown to have racial and socioeconomic disparities and can result in costly and avoidable emergency department visits. A recent pilot program through the California HealthCare Foundation used a Bluetooth sensor on patients' rescue inhalers to record the frequency, location and time of day the inhalers were being used. A personalized app then provided asthma patients with feedback to help them understand what triggered an attack. The app also sent information on high-risk patients to physicians. This intervention saw a 50 percent drop in the number of patients with uncontrolled asthma.

A few studies by app manufacturers have seen improved management and a reduction in emergency department visits through the use of diabetes management apps. Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, N.C., is hoping to see similar results with a new program that will provide diabetes patients with access to 15 apps aimed at health management.

To help clinical management apps reach widespread adoption, the use of apps will need to be incorporated into provider reimbursements, integrated into electronic health records and other provider systems as well as regulated and evaluated for safety and effectiveness, according to the report's authors.  

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