Medical implantables: Why aren't there apps for that?

By: 
June 01, 2015

Waiting in line at your neighborhood Starbucks can leave you with a latte time to think about stuff. For Jordan Safirstein, MD, the downtime led him to wonder why apps aren't more widely used by medical device manufacturers.

"Last week, waiting for my iced coffee at Starbucks, I enviously observed the girl in front of me paying with her phone," writes Safirstein on the Huffington Post's Healthy Living blog. "Fast forward 30 seconds and boom! Iced coffee in hand, I took a few minutes to peruse the app and see what it actually provided, besides the ability to get more iced coffee no matter where I left my wallet. Turns out, it had the whole menu, with ample nutritional data, a store locator, a gifting feature and the ability to share on social media." Imagine the possibilities if this technology were applied to medical devices, he mused.

Consider that hundreds of thousands of patients are implanted with sophisticated medical devices each year. These devices are very expensive and come with a numbing litany of instructions that include lifestyle restrictions, medication guidelines and vital information about the device, all of which could be shared with the patient via a handy app accessed by a smartphone. Instead, all too often, they receive a paper card for their wallet. "No reference material. No answers to frequently asked questions. No helpful reminders that medication compliance is critical. No ability to share with others that they just got a valve or stent or pacemaker. #Unacceptable," writes Safirstein.

So, why are medical device manufacturers so far behind the technology curve? Follow the money, suggests Safirstein.

While health and wellness apps have mushroomed in recent years, "those who undergo surgery today and leave the hospital with new valves, stents or pacemakers do not receive an app," writes Safirstein. While apps would empower patients and make healthcare delivery more efficient and safer, it won't make device companies any richer, because there is no significant path to monetization. Saferstein makes the case, however, that it would be a smart public relations initiative, showing that the company cares enough about its patients to provide robust educational support. As he notes, this is not rocket science: The technology is widely available and the content for a robust app exists on company websites. "It may not yield a direct profit but it will yield a healthier, more educated, more empowered society."

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