By: Amanda Winslow, PharmD, BCPS
When thinking about healthcare technology, what comes to mind first? Wearable technology? General health and wellness apps? Telemedicine? I definitely wouldn’t put pharma apps at the top of that list. Part of the reason for that is lack of exposure. These apps will not commonly appear in the “Top 10” of any app list, which makes them harder to find. The best way to find out about pharma apps is from the company reps themselves. They must educate the providers, who then must like the product enough to recommend them to the patients. This is an especially difficult task during COVID because vendors are not currently being allowed in most offices or hospitals.
What exactly is a pharma app? Many manufacturers are moving into the app space to help patients track medication administration or symptoms for a disease state. It is effectively a “journal” that is at your fingertips. With modern technology, patients can set medication reminders, or even send a push notification to log symptoms for the day. Ideally, this will improve patient experience as well as adherence. Several disease states that would benefit from the use of an app are diabetes (recording diet, medications and labs), cancer (recording chemotherapy medications and their adverse reactions), and hemophilia (recording bleeding events and times). Companies are also using smartphone apps for their clinical trials. These specific apps will inform patients about the trial and scheduling, as well as promote adherence and allow patients to record adverse events.
One thing that makes company-sponsored pharma apps less desirable is that they only track one specific medication or disease state. Most patients are going to have multiple disease states and/or take medications from several different manufacturers. Logging into multiple apps per day to record symptoms or lab results may quickly become cumbersome. Plus, there are many other generic apps that may allow the patient to record and track all of their medications. To combat this, some manufacturers are trying to partner with popular apps with related outcomes, which will stimulate usage.
A huge benefit of pharma apps is the ease of use. At this point in time, almost every single American has a smartphone and can download an app. You can easily change font size for those who have bad vision and can even get some apps to talk to you if needed. Essentially, the apps are universally available once you are aware of them. This allows for continuous monitoring for either symptoms or adherence. Gone are the days of trying to get patients to keep a paper journal for diet or blood glucose readings. Instead, for example, there are continuous glucose monitors that attach to an app that allow you to record these readings and insulin doses. Then, when the patient shows up to the appointment, you can review the information at hand.
Overall, as a pharmacist, I think pharma apps have the potential to do amazing things within medicine. Especially in newly diagnosed patients, these apps will assist patients in developing routines and good habits related to their disease states. It will also help their care providers to optimize their therapy as soon as possible. Healthcare technology is the way of the future and I believe pharma apps will eventually be commonplace for all patients.