HealthTap takes on app curation, prescribing

By: Jonah Comstock | May 30, 2013        

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HealthTap Tablet Member AppRxNow that the shake-up at Happtique has called into question their future as a consumer-facing health app curator, it didn’t take long for another company to step up.

Palo-Alto-based HealthTap, the doctor question and answer service, care provider directory and referral service is branching out once more. In the company’s newest offering, AppRx, HealthTap’s claimed 40,000 physician users will have the opportunity to evaluate health and medical apps in the iOS and Google Play stores, and those reviews will be available to HealthTap’s non-doctor customers.

“Doctors will go into this sea of mobile apps that all of us are so excited about for so many reasons and do something that all of us wish we had the ability to do which is to sort through these 40,000 health-related Android and iOS apps,” HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman told MobiHealthNews. “It’s hard [for Apple and Android] to make sense of the apps and help people find the right apps for them, but the fact that they don’t specialize in health is really a big challenge.”

HealthTap’s approach is quite a bit different from Happtique’s. The app developers aren’t involved in the process at all. HealthTap has created its own, new interface for viewing the Apple and Android app stores.

Whereas both Apple and Android only break apps into two categories, the often confusing “health” and “medical,” HealthTap breaks apps into doctor or consumer categories as well as 30 granular categories including calorie counters, period trackers, vaccine reminders, and pregnancy apps. They are tagged with the same tagging system as HealthTap’s Q&A platform, so consumers can move between the two.

Doctors on the HealthTap network have access to an interface where they can scroll through a list of apps and either recommend them or not, and then optionally write a review to explain their choice. Their reviews won’t enter the system until they’ve written at least 30 and those 30 have been looked over by a specially chosen group of physicians in the system that HealthTap refers to as a “medical review board”. After that, doctors will be able to review apps on their own.

The review process happens at a fairly high level. Doctors are instructed to ask three questions when reviewing an app: Is the app medically sound?, Is the app useful?, and Is the app easy to use and understand? Doctors have already been writing reviews for a while, Gutman said, and there’s enough of a “critical mass” that the company felt it was time to launch.

HealthTap-Smartphone-Expert-ReviewAppsPatients will be able to see reviews and will be able to see how many doctors and which doctors recommended an app. They’ll also be able to “applaud” apps — a separate recommendation system for patients.

Despite the similarity of “AppRx” and Happtique’s app prescription platform “mRx,” and Gutman’s recent appearance on Happtique’s mHealth Zone internet radio show, Gutman was coy when asked about Happtique.

“To be honest with you, I have no idea what they’re doing. I heard about them, they wanted to interview me, I was happy to get interviewed, but I haven’t seen a consumer product from them,” he said. “Do they have something that is open in the market?”

In fact, HealthTap’s AppRx offering is more like Happtique’s originally conceived app store and curation service, rather than their more robust certification process.

“I’m not commenting good or bad on anyone else in the market, but we are the first ones to have a real product in the market where phyicians are reviewing and recommending apps,” Gutman said. “We called it AppRx because we believe that eventually physicians will prescribe apps alongside medications and therapeutics.”

Gutman believes a system like this will enhance the whole ecosystem, encouraging developers to build apps that are more helpful and responsible and encouraging doctors to recommend and eventually prescribe apps. He believes apps are the key to improving medication and therapy adherence.

“If we can encourage developers to create these apps because physicians will eventually prescribe them to their patients, I think we’re going to do a huge service to society,” Gutman said. “And then leave the discussion to the physicians of what are the apps that really would help people.”

HealthTap’s new count of 40,000 physicians is up from 38,000 the company reported earlier this month, when it raised $24 million in a funding round led by Khosla Ventures. Prior to that, HealthTap got $11.5 million from Mayfield Fund, Mohr Davidow Ventures, and former CEO Eric Schmidt and $2.5 million from Mohr Davidow and angels including Esther Dyson.