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Health-care consumer apps: helping or hurting?

A host of products are in development that aim to inform and empower health-care consumers. But the gadgets’ capabilities should raise at least a few red flags, wrote Satish Misra yesterday on KevinMD.

Misra centers his criticism on Healthagen's application Itriage, which allows users to search for doctors by location or specialty, access medical advice lines, browse symptom and disease information, and view HealthGrades reports on providers and facilities.

Of concern should be the business model in play, say Misra:

Healthagen generates revenue from this app a few ways. Presumably, it receives some commissions for Healthgrade reports and advice line calls. It also offers promotional opportunities to physicians, who can add color, pictures, and numerous other features to their profiles in order to recruit more patients.

It is this latter point that concerns me - as an app that professes to empower patients to make informed choices regarding healthcare, this strikes me as manipulation of what is supposed to be objective information that helps patients make good choices. It does not appear that Healthagen allows physicians or other providers to pay in order to bump their profile to the top of search lists, and I hope Healthagen keeps it that way.

We should also question whether easy access to symptom and disease information ultimately benefits consumers, or simply encourages them to delay needed visits to the doctor’s office, Misra adds.

Previously: New England Journal of Medicine introduces iPhone app, Start-up to introduce health care comparison shopping and Stanford conference addresses mobile applications in health care

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