8 September 2017

A GP guide to bring order to health-app chaos

General Practice Technology

A web-based guide to popular digital healthcare apps promises to put GPs just a few clicks away from a store of data, quality ratings and journal articles.

The Digital Health Guide is currently being made available for free to GPs in Tasmania during an initial year of testing and refinement, with several hundred of the most commonly used mobile healthcare apps listed.

“(The selection) is based on the popularity of apps being used and what our user base are actually using,” developer Tim Blake said.

“People have come back saying they were very pleasantly surprised by the information that came up. As the depth of evidence for digital health grows, one of the things we hope to do is grade the quality of the evidence,” he said.

The product grew out of a project, commissioned by Primary Health Tasmania, to look at improving models of care using digital consumer devices.

Mr Blake, managing director of Sydney-based Semantic Consulting, said his team quickly saw a need for information to help doctors assess the array of mobile healthcare apps being used by patients.

“The GPs said they wanted to practice evidence-based medicine and wanted to help patients, but they had no way of knowing what’s good and what’s not.”

More than 100,000 apps are on the market, offering consumers solutions to all manner of health problems. Mr Blake said most were rubbish with no evidence to back them up, but some were very useful.

In the Tasmanian directory, a search function opens up data on a product’s origin, pricing, efficacy ratings and links to online information.

At a stroke, doctors can not only “prescribe” a digital aid for a patient but send them a reminder email. Registered doctors add value by contributing reviews.

“We now have a number of active users who are starting to integrate this into their daily clinical workflow.”

The directory is system is now being adapted for broader healthcare applications in Australia and overseas.  Potentially, it could be used as a vehicle for distributing product warnings and safety advice, and as the basis for an certification system.

Hobart GP Dr Nick Cooling said the beauty of the guide was that it was the users who provided the feedback.

Digital tools were the way of the future, expanding the doctor’s role beyond drug prescribing and lifestyle advice, he said.

“We are now saying, one of the solutions to your problem might be going to this app, which has been quality assured.

“I think these are lovely features, because it means that we are reminding the patient of our advice. Often a patient might only remember two or three things from the consult, so it’s good to get an email from the GP reminding them what they need to do,” Dr Cooling said.