Family Medicine Matters Blog

The OCFP Blog discusses current topics and invites members to share their perspectives and ideas, and engage in a dialogue.

Health apps: The good, the bad and the ugly

February 16, 2017

A guest blog by Dr. Payal Agarwal

Dr. Agarwal is a Family Physician, Engineer and Innovation Fellow, WomeDr. Payal Agarwaln’s College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care 

You know there are lots of health apps out there. Your smartphone-toting patients are probably asking you about them. There may be some that you think are useful, but you’re still not convinced about their effectiveness.

Enter, a new website for family physicians that reviews and identifies apps that could help patients to better manage their health.

The site was launched in September 2016 by the Ontario Telemedicine Network, in collaboration with the Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV). The goal here was to help patients make some sense of the over 165,000 healthcare apps available in app stores.

There is a growing body of evidence that well-designed health apps can help patients manage their diseases through education and improved self-efficacy. They also have the ability to facilitate better conversations with doctors, or improve disease management through smart symptom tracking and monitoring of disease progression. However, very few have actually been tied to credible healthcare organizations or have strong evidence behind them about their effectiveness. This makes it very difficult for doctors to find apps that we can recommend to our patients.

Practical Apps tackles conditions commonly seen in primary care and reviews apps that patients can use to lend some support. Reviewers want to help doctors engage patients in their own health care, by harnessing their phone or tablet to keep on top of things wherever they go. Quality apps have the potential to help patients better manage their disease and record key information that can help inform the care you deliver.

In any review, we look at some of the most commonly downloaded health apps, check app ratings to see what users are saying and explore the most current academic literature on symptom and disease management. When possible, we aim to both find and review Canadian-made apps. A family physician from our team then uses and assesses the apps according to six criteria – clinical validity, usability, privacy and security, accessibility, safety and reliability – finally offering an overall rating. To date, the conditions we’ve explored include migraine, insomnia, hypertension, alcohol consumption and smoking cessation.

The site also features short videos with specialists who share their thoughts on managing conditions and focus on what family doctors need to know. For example, they may be asking themselves, what’s the best way (and the worst way!) to start a conversation with a patient about smoking cessation? Dr. Andrew Pipe tackles that in his video.
Practical Apps is a great resource – not to mention one that offers a Canadian perspective – and I invite you to check it out. We’d love your feedback!


1 comment

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  1. Jane Cox | Feb 18, 2017
    sounds good.  How do I access it?  Thanks Jane

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