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1/3/2013
10:53 AM
Paul Cerrato
Paul Cerrato
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When To Ignore That Mobile Health App

Patients and clinicians need to be aware of all the digital snake oil cluttering up the iTunes store.

 7 Big Data Solutions Try To Reshape Healthcare
7 Big Data Solutions Try To Reshape Healthcare
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Much has been written about the power of mobile technology to transform patient care, and many innovative developers have produced apps that really do move us forward. But sometimes our enthusiasm can blind us to the trash that people continue to download onto their tablets and smartphones.

A case in point: iSAD, an app that allegedly reduces the signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a serious form of depression that strikes during the winter months. While there's solid evidence to show that light therapy can improve this condition, there's no way an app that lights up your cell phone will have any effect on the disorder. A 3G iPhone, for instance, can generate only 200 lux of light, but SAD patients need at least 2,000 lux to experience any benefits.

Apps that claim to benefit patients suffering from clinical depression join a long list of other scientifically groundless online tools for weight loss, stress management and the like, a topic I recently addressed in a slideshow titled "Is That Healthcare Website Making You Sick?"

[ Wearable devices equipped with sensors and Web connections help consumers track health and fitness. Take a look at what's possible now. 10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy. ]

Unfortunately, consumers aren't the only ones who need to be cautious. Clinicians may be tempted to load an app that on first blush will make their jobs easier, such as a smartphone app that lets them view X-rays -- not a good idea considering the fact that the screen is simply too small. Some experts even recommend against viewing medical images on an iPad because of its size and relatively poor resolution.

All this criticism begs the question: How do you choose an effective mobile health app? The best approach is to use the same criteria that discriminating physicians have been using for years when evaluating new medical treatments. Here are three criteria worth applying:

--Look for controlled clinical research that supports the app. Many developers haven't done enough homework or linked up with a medical school faculty that can test their product, but some have. The WellDoc Mobile Diabetes Management app comes to mind because the company has done research to prove its value. Similarly, apps classified as medical devices by the FDA require rigorous testing. AirStrip's fetal monitoring and cardiac monitoring apps fall into that category.

--Demand physiological plausibility. The claims made for any app must, at the very least, be consistent with the laws of physics and known facts about how the body functions. Granted, for a buyer to make a judgment call on physiological plausibility sometimes requires in-depth knowledge of health science. If you feel you're out of your comfort zone, turn to a medical expert you trust.

--Don't rely too heavily on anecdotal evidence. Testimonials from famous athletes and actors turn heads, but they rarely prove that a treatment protocol, or a mobile app, can cure your baldness or lift your depression.

That said, let me take a moment to contradict myself. The history of medicine is filled with innovative scientists who developed invaluable treatments that work but that were initially condemned as snake oil. No doubt there are health apps on the market that fall into this category. They may have no clinical research to support them and don't make a whole lot of sense conceptually -- but they still work.

But such unappreciated geniuses and their apps are few and far between. The vast majority of apps that find their way onto your radar screen call for a healthy dose of skepticism.

Clinical, patient engagement, and consumer apps promise to re-energize healthcare. Also in the new, all-digital Mobile Power issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: Comparative effectiveness research taps the IT toolbox to compare treatments to determine which ones are most effective. (Free registration required.)

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jaysimmons
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jaysimmons,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2013 | 10:23:29 PM
re: When To Ignore That Mobile Health App
Unfortunately we live in a world filled with very gullible people. Many people are being misled by mobile health apps claiming to provide solutions for ailments but in reality are bogus. The more we can educate people as to what to look at when shopping for mobile health apps the better off everybody will be. If they no longer turn to the bogus apps, but turn to more effective apps, we may see a decline in their production and availability. Technology has huge potential when it comes to health, but people always have to be aware that not everything thatG«÷s out there is beneficial.

Jay Simmons
InformationWeek Contributor
mragusa
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mragusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/30/2013 | 7:45:56 PM
re: When To Ignore That Mobile Health App
The rapid rate of mobile health adoption reflects the convenience and utility inherent in mobile apps and devices. Health systems have an opportunity to meet patients where they are increasingly turning for health management: mobile devices. This is patient engagement at its most powerful. Engaged patients will increasingly drive a health system's success. Today that means HCAHPS and readmissions. Tomorrow that means population health and ACOs. Smart health systems understand that and are investing in mobile. For others, the window will eventually close and their patients will turn elsewhere for health management.

http://axialexchange.com/blog/...
pcerrato10
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pcerrato10,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/14/2013 | 10:03:14 PM
re: When To Ignore That Mobile Health App
Sandy

I'd like to learn more about this Certification program.

Paul Cerrato
Editor
InformationWeek Healthcare
sandy555
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sandy555,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/14/2013 | 9:38:30 PM
re: When To Ignore That Mobile Health App
As the Director of Happtique's Health App Certification Program, I couldnG«÷t agree with you more. While there are many powerful and innovative apps created specifically for mHealth, it is critical to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is particularly important given the exponential increase of medical, health, and fitness apps in the marketplace (now estimated to be over 40,000 across all platforms). To realize the potential benefits and outcomes of integrating mHealth into patient care and daily life, providers and consumers need the tools to help them identify trustworthy, reliable mHealth apps. That was the very impetus for creating the Health App Certification Program, with identified standards and associated performance requirements. We will assess the operability, privacy, security, and content of such apps, including the source of that content (whether referenced clinical research, claims made, or any other documentation/support). Apps that successfully meet our standards will be granted certification status and receive the Health App Certification ProgramG«÷s seal of approval. We are currently finalizing the standards and intend to launch the Program in conjunction with our certification partners early this year. The Health App Certification Program will play a pivotal role in creating confidence in the marketplace by identifying effective mHealth apps, thereby allowing providers, consumers, and others to truly harness the power of mHealth technology.
Sandy Maliszewski
Happtique
PJS880
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PJS880,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2013 | 3:03:06 PM
re: When To Ignore That Mobile Health App
It is amazing what people will buy based upon what the company states it does without investigation. I have to agree there are a number of health applications that are very useful and then there are a couple I have downloaded looked at once and have yet to ever use them again. What really sucks is when professionals in the health industry use these applications and maybe get misinformed themselves. I think that is a much larger concern then the average consumer.

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
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