Docs avoid drug errors with mobile apps

Epocrates survey concludes 27 million potential interactions prevented

Consumers aren't the only ones using mobile apps to improve their health. Their doctors are using them, too.

A recent study conducted by Epocrates indicates physicians are accessing drug information at the point of care, often through a mobile medical app, to make sure the drugs they're prescribing aren't harming their patients. That, says the San Mateo, Calif.-based developer of online reference tools, amounts to more than 27 million potentially dangerous drug interactions avoided each year.

Consumers aren't the only ones using mobile apps to improve their health. Their doctors are using them, too.

A recent study conducted by Epocrates indicates physicians are accessing drug information at the point of care, often through a mobile medical app, to make sure the drugs they're prescribing aren't harming their patients. That, says the San Mateo, Calif.-based developer of online reference tools, amounts to more than 27 million potentially dangerous drug interactions avoided each year.

[See also: athenahealth to acquire Epocrates.]

"Drug interactions are more complex than ever before," says Anne Meneghetti, MD, director of clinical communications, who blames the complexity on the increase in new drugs, the increase in patients taking more than one drug, the role that individual genetics play in drug interactions and the increase in so-called 'multi-way interactions' among different drugs. "There's just no way you can hold all that information in your head."

According to the 2012 Specialty Survey, conducted last October among 2,743 physicians who use Epocrates, 22 percent avoided one adverse drug event (ADE) per week by checking drug interaction information online. Another 17 percent said they avoided two ADEs per week, while 23 percent said they avoided three or more ADEs per week. Lastly, 38 percent said they avoided fewer than three ADEs per month.

[See also: Epocrates drops plans for EHR.]

While this doesn't rule out doctors sitting down at a computer terminal to access information, a vast majority of those surveyed are using tablets or smartphones to access information on the go. Studies have estimated that roughly 80 percent of the nation's physicians are using smartphones and roughly one in three are using a tablet at work. According to the Epocrates study, 60 percent of physicians are accessing Epocrates more than three times a day during office hours; while three of every four are using Epocrates every day while with a patient and more than 70 percent are accessing the database outside the office each day.

"ADE apps are part of the equation now," says Meneghetti. "Doctors are using them when they're with patients, actually showing them the information on the app," or they're looking up dosages and drug prices to help patients find the right prescriptions. Away from the office, she says, they use the app as a quick reference tool – "then, it's more a point-of-learning than a point-of-care tool."

Erica Sniad Morgenstern, Epocrates' senior director for public relations, says the company has recognized that patients can download apps and use them in conversations with physicians. That's helping the company in its development of a separate line of patient-facing apps.

According to the Epocrates survey, more than 40 percent of physicians are recommending apps to their patients. In terms of the apps being recommended, 72 percent are for patient education, 57 percent are lifestyle change tools, 37 percent are for drug information, 37 percent are for chronic disease management, 24 percent are for medical adherence and 11 percent are to connect the patient to an electronic health record portal.

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