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How to Vet Mobile Health Apps

Originally published on ClinicalAdvisor.com

NEW ORLEANS — With more than 8,000 mobile apps made specifically for healthcare providers, it can be difficult for nurse practitioners to find the time to sift through all the options and find the best ones. 

Angela Golden, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, presenter her top picks for the most useful mobile apps for clinicians, and provided guidance for practitioners looking to determine what apps are best for their practice, at the American Association of Nurse Practitioners 2015 meeting.

“I used to have a rolling bag to carry all the books I thought I needed when I was a new nurse practitioner [NP],” said Angela Golden, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP. “Now I have all the books I need in the palm of my hand.”

Mobile health apps have already made a significant impact on health care. When patients couple the use of a weight loss app with diet and exercise, they can lose anywhere from 3% to 10% more compared with just diet and exercise alone, according to Golden.

To help providers identify what digital apps work best, the American Academy of Family Practitioners (AAFP) has developed the acronym SPPACES:

  • Source of development: It's important to pay attention to where the app was developed. Information that was culled by researchers at Sloan-Kettering carries more weight compared with information from an unknown source.
  • Platform: It's good to note what devices the app can be used on. iPhones only account for 20% of the smartphone market, whereas Androids account for 75%. However, if a user has an iPhone, and the app is only available for Androids, it's not useful.
  • Pertinence: Apps should be regularly useful for providers. “The old adage is ‘if you don't have it for two years, get rid of it.' With apps, if you don't use it in three months, get it off your phone,” said Golden.
  • Accuracy: Providers need to use their own knowledge and judgment when using an app for medical information.  “Don't assume because it's there, it's accurate,” said Golden. “If the dose doesn't look right, you have to check it.”
  • Cost: Apps range from free to hundreds of dollars per year. Depending on how valuable the app's use is in practice, it may be worth the price. Some apps have features available beyond their free version that make it more useful, so it's up to how you use them in practice. If it's worth the cost, remember that it's tax deductible, said Golden.
  • Ease of use: Providers need to consider how easy the app is to use. “If there's a learning curve to the app, it's gone,” said Golden.
  • Sponsors: Another consideration for providers is figuring who sponsors an app. Some drug and equipment manufacturers may sponsor an app, which concerns regulating bodies like the FDA and some providers.

Golden has scoured through medical blogs, the Google and Apple stores, and listservs to compile a list of the best apps as a resource for providers about which ones to use at point-of-care and to recommend to patients. Her recommmendations are as follows:

BlueStar Diabetes: This app has to be prescribed by a provider, because it is real-time guidance for patients to track their type 2 diabetes. If patients also have a Bluetooth glucometer, this app will access it across any device with the app. Providers can input the plans they have discussed with patients, and if patients report an abnormal reading, the app will remind patients of the plan. Available for iPhone and Android.

Drugs.com: “I think every patient needs some kind of app for medications,” said Golden. This app allows patients to scan their insurance card and list their medications. Then, the app will tell patients their out of pocket expenses for the drug at the five nearest pharmacies. The downside, according to Golden, is that the drug database is only available on a wireless connection. Available for iPhone and Android.

Doximity: The biggest advantage of this digital networking app is that it provides clinicians a fax number for free. Although more providers are practicing in mobile locations and may not have access their own fax machine, insurance companies may not be willing to credential them without it, said Golden. She now uses a fax number through Doximity to keep in touch with insurance and pharmacies. Available for iPhone and Android.

KidSpeak: This app is designed to show patients different parts of their anatomy as a whiteboard, so providers can draw on it to explain health-related concerns.

Alivercor: The American Heart Association (AHA) developed this app, which is an electrocardiogram (EKG) monitor. The monitor attaches to the smartphone phone, and the app opens up immediately. The monitor can also be placed on patients' chest like an old fashioned event monitor. Patients can save out their report and transmit it to their providers immediately.

One thing to keep in mind is to record and remember what apps are recommended or prescribed to patients, said Golden. “You have to document it like you would an education.”


  1. Golden A. “Apps for You and Your Patient.” Presented at: AANP 2015. June 10-15; New Orleans.
Brianne Aikencopy