BACKGROUND: The ubiquity of smartphones and health apps make them a potential self-management tool for patients that could be prescribed by medical professionals. However, little is known about how Australian general practitioners and their patients view the possibility of prescribing mobile health (mHealth) apps as a nondrug intervention.
OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to determine barriers and facilitators to prescribing mHealth apps in Australian general practice from the perspective of general practitioners and their patients.
METHODS: We conducted semistructured interviews in Australian general practice settings with purposively sampled general practitioners and patients. The audio-recorded interviews were transcribed, coded, and thematically analyzed by two researchers.
RESULTS: Interview participants included 20 general practitioners and 15 adult patients. General practitioners' perceived barriers to prescribing apps included a generational difference in the digital propensity for providers and patients; lack of knowledge of prescribable apps and trustworthy sources to access them; the time commitment required of providers and patients to learn and use the apps; and concerns about privacy, safety, and trustworthiness of health apps. General practitioners perceived facilitators as trustworthy sources to access prescribable apps and information, and younger generation and widespread smartphone ownership. For patients, the main barriers were older age and usability of mHealth apps. Patients were not concerned about privacy and data safety issues regarding health app use. Facilitators for patients included the ubiquity of smartphones and apps, especially for the younger generation and recommendation of apps by doctors. We identified evidence of effectiveness as an independent theme from both the provider and patient perspectives.
CONCLUSIONS: mHealth app prescription appears to be feasible in general practice. The barriers and facilitators identified by the providers and patients overlapped, though privacy was of less concern to patients. The involvement of health professionals and patients is vital for the successful integration of effective, evidence-based mHealth apps with clinical practice.