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AppScript wants to help docs find, prescribe best health apps

There are more than 40,000 health-related apps on the market. Yet there is little oversight or organization, leaving even the professionals scratching their heads over what to formally recommend.

AppScript's AppScore, which appears toward the bottom left of each app preview, takes into account several factors, including patient and peer reviews, certifications, and evidence-based outcomes. The apps with the highest score become an "IMS Health Selection" for that particular category. IMS Health

With tens of thousands of health-related apps on the market, and hundreds more popping up every day, consumers and health care providers alike are stuck with the monumental task of finding the best ones for their needs.

A new mobile health platform, released this week, has done the hard work for doctors, by classifying and evaluating more than 40,000 health-related apps on the iOS and Android platforms.

Developed by IMS Health, AppScript reviews each app's functionality, certifications, relevance, and peer and patient reviews. Physicians can then organize these apps based on the types of patients they see and the types of approaches and treatments they prefer.

Along with the release of AppScript, IMS Health is also launching AppNucleus, a customizable cloud-based hosting platform designed to help app developers build secure and industry-compliant apps at low cost. IMS Health is an information, tech, and services company whose clients include medical device makers, government agencies, health care providers, and researchers.

In October, when IMS Health released a report analyzing the state of health apps, it found that the app world is much like the publishing world, in which the majority of books (in this case apps) generate only minimal interest (in this case fewer than 500 downloads). Meanwhile, just five apps -- that's right, five -- account for 15 percent of all downloads in the health category.

IMS points to the "dizzying array" of apps on the market, combined with little guidance from health care professionals, as a main culprit, and finds that most apps do little more than provide information while largely failing to address the needs of people with chronic diseases. Still, despite what IMS Health found to be general reservation, some doctors do recommend some apps -- especially, as one doctor writes, if the apps make their lives easier and their patients' care better.

"There is no system or structure in place to make sense of this ocean of disorganized apps with lots of different characteristics," says Matt Tindall, director of consumer solutions at IMS Health. (AppRx by HealthTap probably gets closest as a feature that enables the network's 40,000-plus doctors to recommend their favorite health apps to everyday folks, though the feature doesn't actually help the doctors themselves with an organized, evidence-based rating system.)

AppScript -- the cost of which IMS Health says will be on a per-doctor basis, with a volume licensing discount available -- is a clear attempt to arm doctors and providers with a reliable measuring stick so that they can formally recommend certain apps for certain purposes. IMS even envisions a not-too-distant future where apps are prescribed as opposed to simply recommended.

The company eventually plans to build on the editorial component with a technical one, so that when physicians recommend apps they will be able to track whether patients actually go through the link to get to the app store, download the app, and then use it. Which is the kind of engagement Tindall says doctors in their focus groups specifically asked for.