How to vet mobile health apps for use in practice

Use the acronymn SPPACES to identify the best mobile health apps for your practice
Use the acronymn SPPACES to identify the best mobile health apps for your practice

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 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 smart phone 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.
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