An app a day keeps the doctor away… Does it? Should it?

More and more, we read in the media that an app a day keeps the doctor away. It is a catchy phrase, yes. But I find it unsettling that it is heard so often, because it seems to imply that eHealth is a substitution to traditional medicine. From my point of view, eHealth is not a substitution, but an addition to health services. An addition that will improve health services, empower users and increase knowledge both for patients and health professionals. eHealth is progress, is the natural evolution of health care, but it is not the end of health care.

One way of categorising eHealth interventions is to divide them in:

  • Purely digital interventions: these are web-based health interventions where there is no interaction with the health care professional at all. Everything happens online. An example: the app MyFitnessPal, where people can track their nutritional intake and other variables, and act on their health based on this information.
  • Hybrid interventions: where there is a mixture of digital action and human interaction.  An example: interventions which use augmented reality (AR) combined with traditional cognitive behavioral therapy  (CBT) to treat phobias.

Each have their own advantages and disadvantages, which I will cover in another post. But my point is that eHealth cannot be seen as a separate element from health care, or an alternative. Whether it is purely digital or hybrid, in order to be effective, eHealth must always be embedded within health care services. Furthermore, it will scarcely work if the medical community sees it as a threat.

I can see that “an app a day keeps the doctor away” can be read as a way of empowering patients, and this is good. eHealth responds to a change of paradigm, where people take ownership of their health issues in a way we have never seen before. But it is also a shallow, easily misinterpreted statement. So I think we must be cautious when we use these kinds of statements social media: not everybody is familiar with the field of eHealth, and it may lead to attitudes that could be damaging in the long term, both for users and for professionals.