Mobile Medical Apps Gold Rush Needs Scrutiny - InformationWeek
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Paul Cerrato
Paul Cerrato
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Mobile Medical Apps Gold Rush Needs Scrutiny

The problem with this kind of booming market? It attracts not only the best and brightest but also IT developers looking for quick profits with minimal investment of resources.

12 Innovative Mobile Healthcare Apps
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Slideshow: 12 Innovative Mobile Healthcare Apps
By most estimates, the mobile health apps market is a gold mine. It will see revenue grow from $230 million in 2010 to $392 million in 2015, according to Frost & Sullivan.

When Research2guideline, a research company specializing in the mobile market, also included revenue not just from the apps themselves but from marketing, transaction fees, services and device sales, they estimated that the mobile health app market increased sevenfold last year alone, from about $100 million to $718 million.

The problem with this kind of gold rush is that it attracts not only the best and brightest but also the fast and furious—IT developers looking for quick profits with minimal investment of resources.

Fortunately, groups like Johns Hopkins University's Global M-Health Initiative are studying mobile apps, trying to separate the glitz from the real gold. Alain B. Labrique, director of the Hopkins initiative, summed up its mission in a recent Baltimore Sun article: "It's a nascent field, and few health apps have been rigorously evaluated.... A lot of the apps you see out now have a disclaimer, or should have a disclaimer, that they have not been validated through rigorous research. It comes down to the individual's perceptions that the app works for them."

[To find out which medical apps doctors and patients are turning to, see 9 Mobile Health Apps Worth A Closer Look]

Labrique's group is currently studying a wide variety of mobile tools, including ones related to obesity, EHRs, child health and immunization, HIV, and maternal health. Their results should eventually help consumers and clinicians make informed choices.

Several responsible mobile app vendors are likewise taking the high ground, conducting or sponsoring the kind of research needed to prove the clinical value of their products. WellDoc's Diabetes Manager comes to mind.

Using LifeScan's One Touch Ultra 2 glucose meters and the WellDoc cell phone app in a yearlong study, researchers from the department of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore found that patients who had access to the mobile system for treatment and behavioral coaching lowered their glycated hemoglobin (A1c)--a measure of long-term blood glucose control--significantly more than those who only received care during occasional doctor visits and through self-management. This was true regardless of how high the patient's A1c level was at the study’s start.

Similarly, Sensiotec is now putting its Virtual Medical Assistant to the test in clinical trials to determine if it improves patient outcomes. VMA is a wireless system that collects vital signs from hospital patients using an ultra-wide band technology. Unlike traditional monitoring systems that require patients be attached to sensors, this Star Trek-like system measures heart rate, respiration, and patient presence and movement without any direct patient contact. Instead it uses a large sensor panel beneath the hospital bed mattress.

Clearly, in the long run patients will benefit from all the entrepreneurs entering the medical apps market. But near term, IT managers, clinicians, and the public must do their homework to make sure these apps are really beneficial, and they have a right to expect vendors to do theirs as well.

If you've already done your homework, we'd like to hear from you. Please send the names of the mobile medical apps you have found must useful to [email protected].

The 2012 InformationWeek Healthcare IT Priorities Survey finds that grabbing federal incentive dollars and meeting pay-for-performance mandates are the top issues facing IT execs. Find out more in the new, all-digital Time To Deliver issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. (Free registration required.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
9/23/2012 | 2:22:17 AM
re: Mobile Medical Apps Gold Rush Needs Scrutiny
While healthcare IT is definitely experiencing it's growing pains and people jumping in for the wrong reason, I believe that the bad will be weeded out shortly and we will have better systems at the end of the day. This is what happened in the internet bubble and it too will happen with the healthcare IT bubble.
Jay Simmons
Information Week Contributor
ACT Mobile Solutions
ACT Mobile Solutions,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2012 | 4:38:09 PM
re: Mobile Medical Apps Gold Rush Needs Scrutiny
This was interesting to me seeing as we specialise in healthcare mobile applications. I'm surprised by what you said about these applications not being properly researched - especially considering the important nature of these applications and what they are going to be used for. When you say 'researched' do you mean 'tested' as well? Testing is another key aspect of healthcare applications. Infact there are lots of different areas that need to be investigated/planned, type of application (tablet or phone), user interface, the back end, security and encryption, data proliferation, analytics and reporting, bug testing etc. but I'd say the 'research' side of things is more up to the customer than anything else, due to their expert knowledge and how best the application is going to be used.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/18/2012 | 7:52:17 PM
re: Mobile Medical Apps Gold Rush Needs Scrutiny
I definitely think the biggest problem will be apps that are created with no clinical input. I recently saw a very cool app for detecting skin cancer. Then the developer admitted he had no background in medicine and knew very little about melanoma/skin cancer.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/16/2012 | 8:32:25 PM
re: Mobile Medical Apps Gold Rush Needs Scrutiny
Healthcare is experiencing a myriad of changes in the administrative, legislative and technology pillars, with each contributing to the dynamic as we know it.
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