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Curating quality and value of health apps

We (will) want to use apps and wearables to care for ourselves.  The tech industry sees the potential – even as it is unsure how to move the market along. In December, a non-profit startup spun out of MIT with plans to curate health apps for consumers -- versus used by health professionals. Hopefully this one, unlike the pay-to-play certification model suspended by the departed Happtique, will focus more on security  than its predecessor. The value of these apps has been publicly questioned -- but the real issue may be privacy protection, given the rights and permissions consumers hand over to app purveyors. Meanwhile, market projections have asserted growth to $26 billion by 2017.

The health tech industry wavers between focus on self-care and more lucrative medical care.  It seems like every other investment targets inside-healthcare, as with iMedicalApps. Many want to improve the physicians’ jobs or make the IT department more effective, with health-specific data warehousing or streamlined processes. Sadly, the big bucks spent on EMR projects have yet to pay back and CIOs acknowledge they are not ready for an onslaught of patient-generated data.  For those typically 'epic' and expensive implementations, there are some efficiency add-ons for the self-reliant patient – you have an appointment on day X, your test results can be found here. Oh, your doctor is outside the hospital’s network? Oops. You can take a CD of your record with you upon discharge. How nice and a good thing, too:  the post-Epic world has now been cited as a roadblock to interoperability, as if there had ever been any intent at all to go down that road.

Given hardening of health information’s arteries– can apps help? One of the companies interviewed for a recent report about boomers and wearable/mobile health, AliveCor, tracks cardiac rhythms with a FDA-cleared phone case attachment (Apple or Android) to detect atrial fibrillation in patients a history of heart problems. Another firm, Medtronic, within its diabetes business segment, is offering a smartphone data collection of readings from insulin pumps and glucometers. For those with complex medication regimens, medication reminders and adherence apps surely can help with tracking intervals and doses. 

Curating health apps should result in a seal of approval. The new non-profit Hacking Medicine Institute, beginning its review of health apps and tech, has a role model.   Remember the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval (founded in 1909)? “If a product bearing the seal proves to be defective within two years of purchase, Good Housekeeping will refund the purchase price (up to $2,000) or repair or replace the product.” This has been around so long, that it has become synonym for verifying that something is what it says it is.  Hint, companies do not pay to be reviewed by an Institute with multiple labs capable of testing a wide range of products.  As the Hacking Medicine Institute moves along, the emphasis should be on consumer/patient apps (not hospital/medical apps), used by the populations that could most benefit from greater support in their quest for health and have a device that could be used with an app. Hint, that segment will be baby boomers, not 20-somethings. And the device may be a tablet, a phone, or a computer