Mobile apps are lots of fun, but they're more than just games, alarms, timers, and social media platforms. More and more, medical professionals are using mobile apps to meet the needs of patients; certain mobile apps make documentation and patient reporting more simple and effective. Medical applications can help eliminate misunderstandings about medications, catch errors on patient charts, and clear up a doctor's instructions for a patient who has returned home.
Even Harvard Medical School, arguably one of the finest schools of medicine in the United States, is taking advantage of mobile apps. Students are instructed to bring their own mobile device and the school itself holds licenses on apps it finds useful. The most popular app for students at HMS is Dynamed, which offers an evidence-based clinical reference to be used at the point-of-care, which means with or near patients.
Harvard's doctors aren't the only ones taking advantage of this mobile technology. A 2011 report from MobiHealth News showed that pharma companies’ investments in medical mobile apps and websites were up 78 percent from 2009 to 2010. As of 2012, there are over 40,000 medical mobile apps available for download.
In 2011, the FDA decided that as-yet unregulated medical apps needed oversight. It drafted a set of guidelines requiring medical apps that made health claims to be tested and approved. The problem is, approval for traditional healthcare devices is a difficult process that costs millions of dollars. The market for medical mobile apps is still growing and doesn't yet earn as much money as that of traditional medical devices. A Stanford University report showed that the cost of device approval through the FDA is between $24 million and $75 million. The entire worth of the medical mobile application market is only $718 million, but is expected to double before the end of 2012, according to Research2Guidance.
Regulation is important, as is protecting users of medical apps – but innovation may be stifled by the long, expensive approval process. If the FDA finds a way to streamline the process so that the mobile apps can be processed more quickly and effectively, it will be on the right track. Medical mobile apps, like the rest of the mobile industry, are updated regularly and can be released with a low initial cost. These attributes make medical apps extremely valuable in a field where knowledge grows by leaps and bounds every week – and where the right app can be the difference between a well patient and an unwell patient.
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