A new report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics offers a general assessment of nearly 43,700 health care mobile apps available to consumers today, including the top five that are downloaded.

IMS started with health care apps available through the English language U.S. iTunes store in June. Researchers then excluded more than 20,000 apps as not truly related to health care and essentially gimmicks with no real benefits. That left 23,682 “genuine health care apps” with 7,407 targeting health care professionals and 16,275 for consumer use.

Ninety percent of the apps score less than 40 on an IMS scale of up to 100 for functionality. Nearly 11,000 apps can provide and display information, but less than half of these give instructions and only one-fifth capture user-entered data.

Stunningly, five apps generate 15 percent of downloads, and half of the remaining apps are downloaded less than 500 times. The top five apps are MyFitnessPal (calorie counter), FatSecret (calorie counter), MacroPinch (cardiograph), MyTracks from Google, and Tracker from ABISHKKING (period calendar).

Having so many products to choose from, little guidance from physicians on the best apps and too many available apps not targeting the greatest areas of need are factors that account for the download gap, according to IMS Institute. Baby Boomers, who potentially could benefit the most from mobile apps, have the lowest adoption rate of any age segment.

Six hurdles preventing physicians from prescribing or recommending apps include the sheer volume and lack of evidence that they work, infrastructure for app prescribing, waiting for apps to be FDA-approved, privacy/security concerns, how patients will pay for expensive apps, and worries about legal liability for prescribing an app.

The report, “Patient Apps for Improved Healthcare: From Novelty to Mainstream,” is available for free download here with brief registration required. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released 33 new free mobile apps that HHS agencies have developed, with more information here.

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