The FDA estimates that 50% of all 3.4 billion worldwide smartphone users have downloaded a health app. Do these apps work? Even if they work for the average patient, will they work for you? And with whom could you discuss your app-based treatment options?
To answer these questions, in the future you may need a referral to a digital practitioner, a health provider trained at evaluating diferent mHealth apps. A paper by Philips et al. (2019) predicts just such an approach.
As gamification and software platforms become more accepted, it is possible that the need arises for the new world of the “digital practitioner”: one who specializes in healthcare apps, accepts referrals from other practitioners, identifies the best programs to meet individual patient needs, and consults to assess whether game applications might improve clinical outcomes. Getting to this point will require new assessment tools validated via real-world evidence and comparative effectiveness research. Just as patients vary in their responses to medications, it is reasonable to assume that some patients will benefit more from one game over another. A 2-way gaming interface could permit the digital practitioner to monitor the progress of the patient, address any deficiencies that might be noted, and adjust the game accordingly.
While a digital practitioner would be useful, a key question is from where do they get their information and how do they measure treatment heterogeneity to map specific apps to individual patients. Further, a question remains whether a digital practitioner would be a person at all, or rather an app itself.