How do you find the best mobile health apps? HealthTap gets doctors to weigh in

With an estimated 40,000 mobile apps for iOS (s AAPL) and Android (s GOOG) that want to help you lose weight, track your fitness, manage chronic disease and address other health issues, separating the truly useful from the trash can be a tough challenge.

Sure, user reviews can be helpful. But the average user could very easily give a high rating to an app that’s not scientifically sound or that doesn’t follow medical guidelines. And as studies and reports continue to show, there’s a good likelihood of that happening, considering the number of apps that claim to treat medical problems but lack clinical evidence.

To give people a little more clarity on the apps that could best address their health needs, HealthTap on Thursday is launching an app directory featuring doctor recommendations and written reviews. Called AppRx, the company said the directory enables patients to filter health and wellness apps with more granularity than what they’d find in app stores managed by Apple(s AAPL) and Google.(s GOOG) And, more importantly, it gives users a window into the apps that physicians actually find valuable.

“This whole notion of apps being integrated into the process of care is something we’re going to see more and more as these apps mature,” said HealthTap co-founder and CEO Ron Gutman. “One of the things we saw as a huge opportunity is the discoverability of apps, which came from our own frustration of going to the app store and drowning in a sea of apps.”

HealthTap - AppRx2While any of the 40,000 physicians on HealthTap can recommend and review an app, Gutman said they’re asked to consider three key guidelines: the medical soundness of the app, the app’s utility (in supporting health or healthy living goals) and the app’s usability. Given the site’s wide network of physicians and consumer-focused orientation, AppRx is a smart way to get physicians more deeply involved with the site and patients more interested in spending time with the service. At launch, the company said its directory will include 21,900 apps in 30 different categories, but it declined to share how many apps will include reviews or recommendations.

While the Food & Drug Administration is expected to hand down final guidance on the regulation of mobile health apps, the agency has said its oversight will only apply to a small subset of “mobile medical apps.” Services like HealthTap’s AppRx could help give more insight into apps not covered by the FDA.

For the past few years, Happtique, a company founded by the Greater New York Hospital Association’s for-profit arm GNYHA Ventures, has been focused on building a kind of mobile health app store of its own. And it’s spent a good deal of time finalizing standards for content, technical performance, privacy and security, as well as creating a certification process for health app developers. But its primary focus is on hospitals and enterprise app distribution, not consumers. The independent website iMedicalApps offers app reviews written by doctors and medical school students, but its target audience is also mostly the medical community.