Software developer Ringful Health, developers of the first mobile health app to integrate with the now-defunct Google Health, has teamed up with Consumer Reports to create an app to help patients choose the most effective, and often cheapest, prescription drug for their conditions.
The app, called Best Drugs for Less, lists the best drugs based on "comparative medical research into effectiveness, safety, convenience, and side effects," according to an article about the app on ConsumerReports.org. However, in most cases, the drug that Consumer Reports has identified as the best is a generic drug, significantly cheaper than the most-often prescribed alternatives. Patients can save as much as $275 a month, for instance, by switching from a $296 per month dose of Celebrex to a $21 a month dose of Ibuprofen for osteoarthritis.
Consumer Reports doesn't shy away from the question of why patients would take drug advice from an app, rather than from their doctor.
"Every good doctor keeps up with the medical literature on drugs, but that's hard since the volume of research is enormous," Consumer Reports writes. "Moreover, physicians often know relatively little about drug prices or about their patients' insurance coverage.
"Doctors also face constant pressure from drug companies trying to influence what they prescribe. The companies spend some $15 to $20 billion annually on trade journal advertising and other outreach—including in-person sales calls, professional symposia and gifts—to spread their message to doctors, pharmacists, benefit managers, and others. Why? Because it works. Studies show that the brands with high marketing budgets also tend to get prescribed more."
The free app, available on iOS only, includes written guides as well as explanatory videos that go more in-depth about the differences between different drugs. In addition to offering price comparisons for particular conditions, it also includes feature articles on topics like "Where high drug costs hide".
Ringful Health is also recently received a $150,000 NIH grant to research app-based strategies to increase medication adherence.
"In this project, Ringful Health leads a team of scientists from University of Texas, University of Kentucky, Consumer Reports, and Mount Sinai Hospital to tackle this problem," CEO Michael Yuan said in a press release. "We will explore how to use consumer-grade technology to engage patients, facilitate real-time decision support, and improve patients’ medication management and adherence at home."