KEY TAKEAWAY: In a head-to-head comparison, real human physicians outperformed a collection of 23 symptom-checker apps and websites by a margin of more than 2 to 1, according to a report published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
While this study is eye-opening I think we need to put in into perspective. Most people don’t use health apps to diagnose, they use them to help them manage health problems or track symptoms. Where we should be worried, however, is that there may be a segment of people who do use apps to self diagnose. Even small delays in seeking treatment could be costly.
There has been a lot of talk around mobile health apps and in fact venture capital money is flowing into startups, but 99% of those startups are going to fail. Health apps are like a dictionary; we only use them when we need to look up something. In addition research last summer I was part of indicated that HCP’s, including nurse practitioners, said they “don’t trust health apps to provide accurate data”.
Even fitness devices don’t provide accurate data. The Fitbit PurePulse Trackers do not accurately measure a user’s heart rate, particularly during moderate to high intensity exercise, and cannot be used to provide a meaningful estimate of a user’s heart rate,” a study document stated.
Even startups that aim to connect doctors and patients online are no substitute for meeting with an HCP in person. Doctors need to meet with patients to visually assess patients’ problems. Someone complaining, for example, of an allergy could have a sinus infection instead, which, if left untreated, could become harder to treat.
Should pharma shy away from apps? Absolutely not! Apps can help patients manage their health problems and be a valuable tool to improve outcomes. However, before that can happen pharma needs to develop and test apps with the same scrutiny as drugs. More importantly, they need to provide clinical proof to doctors that data being collected is both relevant and accurate.