Healthcare Trade Groups Join To Evaluate mHealth Apps

Posted on December 29, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A group of leading healthcare organizations, including HIMSS, the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association and DHX Group, have come together to evaluate mHealth apps. The new organization, which calls itself Xcertia, says members came together to foster knowledge about clinical content, usability, privacy, security and evidence of efficacy for such apps.

It’s hardly surprising that that healthcare groups would want to take a stand on the issue of health app quality. According to a study published late last year by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, there are at least 165,000 mHealth apps available on the iTunes and Android stores.

But what percentage of those apps are worth using? Nobody really knows. It’s hard to tell after casual use which apps are useful and which don’t live up to their hype, which protect patient privacy and which leave data open to prying eyes, and particularly, which offer some form of clinical benefit and which just waste people’s time. And without a set of formal standards by which to judge, it’s very hard to compare one with the other in a meaningful way.

This uncertainty is holding back mHealth adoption by doctors. According to a recent survey by the AMA, physicians are interested in using apps and related tools – in fact, 85% told researches that digital health solutions can have a positive impact on patient care – they’re also reluctant to “prescribe” apps until they understand them better. (There’s also a group of doctors I’ve encountered who say that until mobile apps are FDA-approved, they won’t take them seriously, but that may be another story.)

In late November, attendees at a recent AMA meeting moved the mHealth puck up the ice a little bit, adopting a set of proposed set best principles for mobile health design. The criteria they adopted for mobile apps and devices included that they should follow evidence-based practice guidelines, support data portability and interoperability, and have a clinical evidence base to support their use. But these guidelines are hardly specific enough to help doctors decide which apps to adopt.

So far, all Xcertia is willing to say about its plans is that it plans to develop a framework of principles that will “positively impact the trajectory of the mobile health app industry.” The guidelines should help both consumers and clinicians choose mHealth apps, the group reports.

Let’s hope those guidelines are less ho-hum than those coming out of the AMA meeting – after all, it certainly would be good if developers and providers had concrete standards upon which they could base their app efforts.