App Review

Patient-facing mobile apps: Are ObGyns uniquely positioned to integrate them into practice?

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Incorporating mobile apps into patient care programs can add immense value. Mobile apps enable data collection when a patient is beyond the walls of a doctor’s office and equip clinicians with new and relevant patient data. Patient engagement apps also provide a mechanism to “nudge” patients to encourage adherence to their care programs. These additional data and increased patient adherence can enable more personalized care,1 and ultimately can lead to improved outcomes. For example, a meta-analysis of 1,657 patients with diabetes showed a 5% reduction in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) values for those who used a diabetes-related app.2 The literature also shows positive results for heart failure, weight management, smoking reduction, and lifestyle improvement.3-5 Given their value, why aren’t patient engagement apps more routinely integrated into patient care programs?

From a software development perspective, mobile apps are fairly easy to create. However, from a user retention standpoint, creating an app with a large, sustainable userbase is challenging.5 User retention is measured in monthly active users. We are familiar with unused apps collecting digital dust on our smartphone home screens. A 2019 study showed that 25% of people typically use an application only once,6 and health care apps are not an exception. There are hundreds of thousands of mobile health apps on the market, but only 7% of these applications have more than 50,000 monthly active users. Further, 62% of digital health apps have less than 1,000 monthly active users.7

Using a new app daily or several times weekly requires new habit formation. Anyone who has tried to incorporate a new routine into their daily life knows how difficult habit formation can be. However, ObGyn patients may be particularly well suited to incorporate ObGyn-related apps into their care, given how many women already use mobile applications to track their menstrual cycles. A recent survey found that across all age groups, 47% of women use a mobile phone app to track their menstrual cycle,8 compared with 8% of US adults who regularly use an app to measure general health metrics.7 This removes one of the largest obstacles of market penetration since the habit of using an app for ObGyn purposes has already been established. As such, it presents an exciting opportunity to capitalize on the userbase already leveraging mobile apps to track their cycles and expand the patient engagement footprint into additional features that can broaden care to create a seamless, holistic patient application for ObGyn patient care.

One can envision a future in which a patient is “prescribed” an ObGyn app during their ObGyn appointment. Within the app, the patient can track their health data, engage with health providers, and gain access to educational materials. The clinician would be able to access data captured in the patient app at an aggregate level to analyze trends over time.

Current, patient-facing ObGyn mobile apps available for download on smartphones are for targeted aspects of ObGyn health. For example, there are separate apps for menstrual cycle tracking, contraception education, and medication adherence tracking. In the future, it would be ideal for clinicians and patients to have access to a single, holistic ObGyn mobile app that supports the end-to-end ObGyn patient journey, one in which clinicians could turn modules on or off given specific patient concerns. The technology for this type of holistic patient engagement platform exists, but unfortunately it is not as simple as downloading a mobile app. Standing up an end-to-end patient engagement platform requires enterprise-wide buy-in, tailoring user workflows, and building out integrations (eg, integrating provider dashboards into the existing electronic health record system). Full-scale solutions are powerful, but they can be expensive and time consuming to stand up. Until there is a more streamlined, outside-the-box ObGyn-tailored solution, there are patientfacing mobile apps available to support your patients for specific concerns.

Continue to: The top 3 recommended menstrual cycle tracking apps...


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