Health apps and websites are no substitute for a visit to the doctor

healthappsAt its annual shindig in Chicago, physicians in the American Osteopathic Association over the weekend agreed to warn patients that health apps and websites are no substitute for a visit to the doctor.

According to a September 2013 survey released by Makovsky Health and Kelton, the average American spends about 52 hours each year on the Internet looking up health information. While medical websites with symptom-checker tools— such as WebMD, Isabel Symptom Checker and EverydayHealth— can provide valuable health information to patients, they should not be used as a replacement for a visit to the physician. Members of the American Osteopathic Association’s (AOA) House of Delegates voted to educate patients about the importance of seeing a physician when in need of a medical diagnosis instead of solely relying on medical websites or cell phone and tablet computer apps to self-diagnose illness or injury.

“Physicians want to see patients educating themselves and taking control of their health and when used correctly these medical websites and apps are a great tool,” says Michael R. Brown, DO, an AOA board-certified family physician in Kearney, Missouri. “However, the AOA wants to make sure patients realize that these sites and apps, no matter how convenient, cannot replace the patient-physician relationship.”



World of DTC Marketing Insight…

open-uri20121009-31608-1g1zqaqFirst, we need to better understand why some patients may be using apps/websites to diagnose themselves and then we need to address these barriers via patient communication(s).  All pharma product websites, for example, should include strong calls to action to see a physician and the sites should contain content on the importance of good patient/physician communication.

Second, health apps should be tools for patients to better manage their health issues not a replacement for qualified medical care.  Marketers, however, need to conduct substantial testing during app development to ensure that patients find the apps useful and engaging.  To this extent pharma should be developing protocols to beta test apps for utility among target audiences.

Finally, I would like to see the AMA work with both healthcare providers and biopharma to develop patient materials and content stressing the importance of seeing a doctor before it’s too late and small health problems become big health issues.  Physicians need to also use their database of patients to schedule follow-up visits and remind patients of annual physicals.