A recent article on STAT discussed the mobile health technology industry and the glut of “digital technologies searching for a purpose.”
The article states that 250,000 health-related smartphone apps are available for download today and new technologies are released every month. The FDA approved almost 3,000 medical devices last year, and a recent study found a huge variability between commercially available heart rate apps.
“There are hundreds of cases of digital technologies searching for health care purposes, like square pegs trying to fit into round holes,” said the article.
Indeed, industry experts say that too often home health technology is developed because it’s a cool technology—not because it’s meeting a health need.
“There’s a big difference between usability and desire to use,” said Jean-Anne Booth, CEO and founder of Unaliwear, maker of the Kanega watch, in a recent interview. “Your average app developer won’t be able to put himself in the shoes of the user unless he spends a lot of time talking to those users.”
If a home health technology isn’t easy to use or if a consumer doesn’t see the value in using it, it will fall to the wayside of discarded devices and deleted apps pretty quickly.
Too often, the technology is developed before the problem is defined, resulting in too many health technologies that, rather than improving the quality of life of users, are confounding and confusing them.
“There’s a lot of good content out there already,” said Dr. Michael Hodgkins, vice president and chief medical information officer for the American Medical Association. “What’s missing is the evidence. No one has taken a comprehensive look at this and said ‘These are the things that need to be considered.’”
Hodgkins is a member of Xcertia, an alliance formed last year that will incorporate feedback from members in a consensus-driven process to advance the body of knowledge for mobile health apps around clinical content, usability, privacy and security, interoperability and evidence of efficacy. The alliance is supported by the AMA, the American Heart Association, DHX Group and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
Hodgkins said the new alliance will look at the current mobile health app market to create and deliver detailed principles and best practices for developers and consumers.
“We’ll be asking questions like, ‘What’s the underlying evidence that supports what the app says it does?’ and ‘What will contribute to patient engagement?,’” he said.
Rising voices from the industry are saying the end user’s needs should be considered before the technology is developed. Let’s hope developers are listening.