Better Health, an iPhone App Away

An Apple a day might not keep the doctor away, but the company's AppStore carries several solutions for tracking health care on the go -- and pharmaceutical companies continue to line up as backers.

VIVUS  (NASDAQ: VVUS  ) has a newly released weight loss app that can be used by anyone, but the company's obviously aiming at potential customers for its obesity drug Qsymia. The Q and Me app allows for the tracking of exercise and diet, while providing access to recipes and metrics readouts.

The VIVUS app has a lot of competition from long-standing nutrition sites like MyFitnessPal. But Q and Me becomes the latest in a growing trend of mobile solutions backed by pharmaceutical companies.

iBGStar Diabetes Manager (Sanofi)
Sanofi  (NYSE: SNY  ) supplements its multibillion-dollar insulin Lantus with a smartphone-enabled blood glucose monitor. The small iBGStar monitor can function on its own or connect to an Apple iPhone or iPad for tracking.

The accompanying app allows users to track meals, exercise, and glucose levels -- all important factors in diabetes management. Blood sugar tracked over time can provide metrics showing the cause and effect of certain activities, such as jogging or eating a doughnut.

iChemoDiary (Merck)
Merck's  (NYSE: MRK  ) iChemoDiary app  helps patients track chemotherapy treatments and record notes. The app also provides information about different drugs and their potential side effects. Patients can easily share the information with health care providers to identify any potential problems with the current regimen.

Cancer treatments tend toward intense personalization, both in the treatments used and the side effects suffered. This app could vastly streamline the process for both patient and doctor.

The free app is available through Apple's iTunes and for desktop use. It's branded through Merck's medication Emend, which treats chemo-related nausea.

Psoriasis App (Johnson & Johnson)
Johnson & Johnson  (NYSE: JNJ  ) subsidiary Janssen backs a Psoriasis App that includes functions for both health care providers and patients. The company's psoriasis drug Stelara reached blockbuster status last year.

The app includes a Psoriasis Area & Severity Index, which provides an interactive anatomical graph of where on the body a patient's psoriasis is affecting and to what extent. Patients can also answer and share a questionnaire to help doctors determine the best treatment.

Download the app through Apple's iTunes or you can use the online version.

Foolish final thoughts
The specialized apps from Johnson & Johnson and Merck serve as better promotions for their drugs than the easily replicated general topics like VIVUS' weight loss app. Sanofi's program will actually drive revenues, since there's a physical device required.

While it's unlikely these apps will move the needle too much in the near term, our health care system desperately needs to improve patient adherence when it comes to prescription drugs. Given this need, and the pervasiveness of smartphones, I expect more and more pharmaceutical companies and insurers to jump on this bandwagon in the future.

If smartphone apps can be used to improve patient adherence, it could help us stop what Warren Buffett has referred to as "the tapeworm that's eating at American competitiveness." In a special free report titled "What's Really Eating At America's Competitiveness," you'll also discover an idea to profit as companies work to eradicate this efficiency-sucking tapeworm. Just click here for free, immediate access.


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