Physicians can prescribe medical apps to patients under pilot program

September 4, 2012

Happtique, an online mobile application (app) store for healthcare, has a new e-prescribing solution dubbed “mRx†that enables physicians to prescribe medical, health, and fitness-related apps for their patients.

Happtique, an online mobile application (app) store for healthcare, has a new e-prescribing solution dubbed "mRx" that enables physicians to prescribe medical, health, and fitness-related apps for their patients.

Happtique developed the app to give doctors the ability to directly e-prescribe the healthcare apps found in the company's databases. Development of the new app e-prescribing solution has entered the pilot stage, which will focus on cardiology, rheumatology, and endocrinology specialties, as well as orthopedics, physical therapy, and fitness training. Happtique, however, also is inviting physicians from other specialties to participate.

“Given the tens of thousands of medical, health, and fitness apps on the market today, patients need guidance from healthcare professionals as they select and use these apps to manage their health,” says Ben Chodor, Happtique’s chief executive officer. “We also firmly believe that app prescribing will prove an effective tool for facilitating positive patient behavior change, which will foster self-management and monitoring and ultimately result in improved health outcomes and lowered healthcare costs.”

Doctors who want to participate in the mRx pilot program must first complete an application. Once approved, physicians will receive a link and instructions on how to install mRx on their Apple or Android smartphones or tablets.

According to Happtique, the mRx app includes mHealth App Catalog, which contains the apps that the practitioner will prescribe; Patient Directory, a field that is populated automatically with the patients who are prescribed apps, along with the specific apps they are prescribed; and mRx, the electronic prescription form used by doctors to prescribe apps.

“When the mRx prescription form is completed, the practitioner sends it to the patient’s smartphone or tablet. Practitioners can track which patients have downloaded prescribed apps and send reminders to patients whose apps aren’t downloaded. At the end of the pilot program, practitioners and patients will be asked for feedback on their experience using mRx,” Happtique says.

A 2011 study by International Data Corp. titled “IDC Predictions 2012: Competing for 2020” concluded that in 2012, up to 85 billion mobile apps would be downloaded-an increase of 122% over previous years-and that the 8% of mobile apps that cost money to download will account for more revenue than sales of mainframe computers.

According to Happtique, more than 20,000 of those apps are medical and healthcare-related and can be downloaded for free or at a lost of up to hundreds of dollars, depending on the capability of the app and any support plans.

These trends captured the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which already regulates the manufacture and sale of medical devices.

In 2011, the FDA in a press release announced its intention to seek input on the agency's "proposed oversight approach" to regulating certain mobile healthcare related applications. The release also included the FDA's "draft guidance" proposal for the regulation of mobile medical applications, which it included for comment purposes only.

"The use of mobile medical apps on smart phones and tablets is revolutionizing health care delivery," says Jeffrey Shuren, MD, JD, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "Our draft approach calls for oversight of only those mobile medical apps that present the greatest risk to patients when they don't work as intended."

Response to the FDA's actions was swift and predictable. Critics note that the FDA currently takes about 20 months to approve new medical devices. Those in the app developer community have said that the process is too slow.

"The FDA's current regulatory process was created when the floppy disk was around," said Joel White, executive director of the Health IT Now Coalition, in a Kaiser Health News article. "We're seeing mobile apps updated and created on a daily basis. The lifecycle is dramatically different."

Happtique's mRx pilot program runs August 20 through December. Physicians interested in joining the program can learn more about it here.

Go back to current issue of eConsult