mHIMSS hosted its annual mobile health IT conference in Washington DC this week. I serve on the group’s advisory board and was pleased to see such excitement about the potential for apps to improve patient care and monitoring.
The field of mHealth is starting to take off and improved regulatory clarity from the FDA is encouraging developers to enter the marketplace and investors to fund them. As the date of conference approached, however, the Washington Post ran a story on mobile health apps highlighting some that are based on flimsy science at best.
When the iTunes store began offering apps that used cellphone light to cure acne, federal investigators knew that hucksters had found a new spot in cyberspace.
“We realized this could be a medium for mischief,” said James Prunty, a Federal Trade Commission attorney who helped pursue the government’s only cases against health-app developers last year, shutting down two acne apps.
It’s hard to take these apps seriously. They certainly have no place in a medical context. But the mere existence of acne curing apps underscores the need for patients to identify reputable apps they can entrust with their health.
Unfortunately, a few in the developer community believe that the real value of mobile health apps is their democratization of healthcare delivery and lower costs. It’s not so important, they suggest, for apps to produce perfect diagnoses since their effectiveness is believed to be a subjective measurement.
This is not a compelling argument to make when promoting apps to the medical community. It’s actually what you’d expect to hear from a hobbyist. And most people in the medical profession regard their work more seriously than a hobby. It’s regrettable, then, that the Washington Post wasn’t exposed to the real innovation taking place in the industry before its conference preview piece.
Where mHealth is really poised to make a difference in patients’ lives is through the work of entities like AT&T’s ForHealth and Qualcomm Life. These companies collaborate with providers of mobile health services that meet HIPAA requirements to provide a trusted app resource for consumers. These keep patients actively engaged in their healthcare management while providing physicians with more useful data to enable better clinical decisions.
Curated stores provide another means to create a marketplace of certified apps which can be prescribed by physicians. These programs have been subject to clinical trials and received FDA approval. One such app from Intel can measure a patient’s medical data and, if a subsequent series of automated questions yield concerns, it can initiate a video conference directly with a physician. Mobile health products likes these are especially helpful for those in remote areas or who have difficulty traveling.
The innovation that is occurring in the mHealth field has the potential to revolutionize health care. In addition to facilitating increased doctor-patient communication, it would bring marketplace efficiencies to an industry rife with proprietary networks currently inhibiting interoperability. As with any institution facing disruptive technology, there are plenty of reasons to resist change. Those who object to this new technology seek to trivialize mobile health, and industry representatives should avoid feeding into this narrative.
Thankfully this week’s mHIMSS conference was an unqualified success, demonstrating that reputable mobile app providers can dramatically improve health care delivery. Lets hope that the naysayers were paying attention.