Medibank taps another health app

One of our most popular stories this week was Medibank's announcement that the insurer would trial a new health and wellbeing app with its staff before offering it for free to customers and the general public.

Called Live Better, the app will able to combine data from health devices along with wearables like Fitbits and wellbeing apps all in one location. Medibank customers will be offered the incentive of earning points for using the app and achieving goals that can then be used to reduce premiums.

There's nothing really new in this and there are a number of other app platforms on the market that are targeted at health insurers and corporate health and wellbeing companies. For the motivated, wellbeing and fitness apps are nifty little things that can be really useful – the Strava app is enormously popular – and many health apps do work for conditions like moderate depression. More functionally complex apps like Longevum's Gevity platform are also being used for chronic disease self-management, and there are loads of really quite good medication management apps out there.

What we've never seen are compelling figures on the long-term success of these apps and whether people actually stick with them for more than a couple of months. It's like January gym memberships – everyone does it with the best of intentions, but by April we're giving the gym a rest over Easter and veritably inhaling chocolate.

We like it that Medibank plans to make the app freely available to non-members but wonder if the insurer had developed the app with the My Health Record in mind. In advance of the ability for patients to electronically access and use any of their health information from their providers, adding access to the My Health Record would be a benefit for a self-management app.

However, it is still unclear whether insurers will be able to offer this functionality to customers based on the changes made to legislation last year that banned them from having any access to customers' My Health Records. This move has put the kybosh on a lot of innovation in health apps, which seems a bit of a shame.

However, it reminds us of a nice blog post from Semantic Consulting's Tim Blake published last week. Tim knows a hell of a lot about health apps and how crappy many of them are, and we really liked his arguments about how many mobile health apps may be able to gather large amounts of data on a person but are not actually of much clinical value to the health professionals caring for them.

We've argued in the past that clinicians, particularly GPs, simply do not have time to wade through your Fitbit data and nor do they have the inclination. It is finding clinical value that is the key. We reckon the success or failure of the My Health Record will rest on this as well.

Just as mobile apps were the big thing that would revolutionise healthcare eight years ago (and still haven't), now it's AI. We liked this story from New Zealand about something as simple as using smart speakers in rehab wards for people with mobility issues as an addition to nurse call systems. This device allows patients to make a spoken request which is then routed to nurses' devices, allowing them to evaluate the request without running back and forward to the patient's room.

We are as cynical about anything “disrupting” healthcare as we have always been, but it's nice to see some practical applications emerging. It's pretty simple stuff but will make a difference to nurses' time and patients' experience, both of which are of value in themselves.

That brings us to our poll question for the week: Are patient-focused health apps of much clinical value?

Sign up to our weekend edition or Pulse+IT Chat to vote, or leave your thoughts below.

Last week, our poll questions was: With critical mass, will the My Health Record finally prove useful? The majority of our readers think so: 63 per cent said yes, while 37 per cent said no.

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