Drug apps used by providers and patients

Consumers aren't the only ones using mobile apps to improve their health. Their doctors are using them, too.

A recent study conducted by Epocrates indicates physicians are accessing drug information at the point of care, often through a mobile medical app, to make sure the drugs they're prescribing aren't harming their patients. That, according to the San Mateo, Calif.-based developer of online reference tools, amounts to more than 27 million potentially dangerous drug interactions avoided each year.

"Drug interactions are more complex than ever before," noted Anne Meneghetti, MD, director of clinical communications, who blames the complexity on the increase in new drugs, the increase in patients taking more than one drug, the role that individual genetics play in drug interactions and the increase in so-called 'multi-way interactions' among different drugs. "There's just no way you can hold all that information in your head," she commented.

According to the 2012 Specialty Survey, conducted last October among 2,743 physicians who use Epocrates, 22 percent avoided one adverse drug event (ADE) per week by checking drug interaction information online. Another 17 percent said they avoided two ADEs per week, while 23 percent said they avoided three or more ADEs per week. Lastly, 38 percent said they avoided less than three ADEs per month.

While this doesn't rule out doctors sitting down at a computer terminal to access information, a vast majority of those surveyed are using tablets or smartphones to access information on the go. Studies have estimated that roughly 80 percent of the nation's physicians are using smartphones and roughly one in three are using a tablet at work. According to the Epocrates study, 60 percent of physicians are accessing Epocrates more than three times a day during office hours, three of every four are using Epocrates every day while with a patient, and more than 70 percent are accessing the database outside the office each day.

"ADE apps are part of the equation now," explained Meneghetti. "Doctors are using them when they're with patients, actually showing them the information on the app," or they're looking up dosages and drug prices to help patients find the right prescriptions. Away from the office, she said, they're use the app as a quick reference tool – "then, it's more a point-of-learning than a point-of-care tool."

Erica Sniad Morgenstern, Epocrates' senior director for public relations, said the company has recognized that patients can download apps and use them in conversations with physicians. That's helping the company in its development of a separate line of patient-facing apps.

According to the Epocrates survey, more than 40 percent of physicians are recommending apps to their patients. In terms of the apps being recommended, 72 percent are for patient education, 57 percent are lifestyle change tools, 37 percent are for drug information, 37 percent are for chronic disease management, 24 percent are for medical adherence and 11 percent connect the patient to an electronic health record portal.

Physicians also have several different sources for identifying which apps to recommend to their patients. According to the survey, 41 percent get advice from a friend or colleague, while 38 percent use an app store, another 38 percent use an Internet search engine, 23 percent learn of an app from another patient or patients, and 21 percent use the app themselves.

That said, the survey also notes that more than half of the physicians contacted said they don't know which apps are "good to share."

Epocrates officials point out that last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved 35 new prescription medications, one of the highest authorization levels in history. That places an increased burden on the physician who needs to keep up with the latest medications available and the patient who has to manage those medications.

"Epocrates is a very valuable tool for me as someone with chronic illness on multiple medications," said John Chaney of Pikeville, Ky., who was quoted in a Jan. 23 press release issued by Epocrates on the survey's results. "I need to closely monitor for potential interactions with my physician and [we] can immediately review results together on a smartphone."