Take Two Apps and Call Me in the Morning
People have been whispering about it for some time; now it seems it has come to pass. We are entering the era of the prescription app. The FDA is currently approving a growing number of apps to be prescribed by doctors and covered by insurance.
How would this work? Consider DiabetesManager, a smartphone app that records essential data such as blood glucose levels, then forwards those figures to the appropriate doctors and makes recommendations based on common patterns.
It turns out that simple programs like these can save a bundle on healthcare, both for individuals and for the nation as a whole. The beauty part? A growing suite of peripheral devices, such as glucose monitors, can hook into your Android and iOS phones and do the heavy lifting for you—no manual input required.
Part of this trend will require a paradigm shift in our thinking. Instead of imagining the classic prescription—a bottle of pills—it’s useful to think of an app prescription more like a medical device in your home. It’s not penicillin, in other words; it’s a CPAP, or a respirator, or an infusion pump. But instead of a giant, wheezing machine, these apps leverage your smartphone’s natural computing firepower and network connectivity to do their work:
“It is intuitive to people, the idea of a prescription,” said Lee H. Perlman, managing director of Happtique, a subsidiary of the business arm of the Greater New York Hospital Association. Happtique is creating a system to allow doctors to prescribe apps, and Mr. Perlman suggested that a change in the way people think about medicine might be required: “We’re basically saying that pills can also be information, that pills can also be connectivity.”
Of course there are lots of regulatory hurdles ahead for the coming wave of medical apps, not to mention several potential issues with hardware, software, training and compliance. Still, it is an interesting look at where medicine is heading, and yet another signal that the convergence of smartphones and healthcare is well underway.