Certifying health apps: is it at all possible?

This article in iMedicalApps takes a look back at the controversy that swirled around Happtique only four weeks ago–when Harold Smith III of Monckton Health and Fixmo went public on major data security flaws in two of their 19 certified apps–and moreover how Happtique did not respond to his concerns either in December or on the process in March [TTA 13 Dec]. It was the talk of the last big US gathering prior to International CES, the mHealth Summit.

Unfortunately, Satish Misra, MD, one of their editors, provides an argument best described as a ‘circular firing squad.’ Dr. Misra is absolutely correct on the enormity of curating and certifying tens of health/medical apps. But the point of the article seems to be that any kind of evaluation mechanism or certification is a fool’s errand.

The logic presented as this Editor interprets the article: Since Happtique’s certification process had standards which were complicated and arbitrary (plus, as it turned out, flawed), it proves that it’s useless to pursue standards and certification. In addition to being ‘resource intensive’ for reviewing tens of thousands of apps, standards cannot decide what app is the right choice, even if that was not the intent of the certification. So doctors and ‘end users’ have to become ‘app-literate’; hang the fact that the point of curation and certification is to do at least some of the heavy lifting (pre-screening) job for them beforehand! Back to the start: reading all the peer review stuff on thousands of medical apps, if it’s reviewed at all, as iMedicalApps does for some. (And will these reviews be 100% accurate? Will they subject every app to data security screening? What are their standards?) Back to Square One: DIY and Dodge City. Apps present too much (unpaid) work for docs to think about, patients use (then abandon) apps that can be privacy risks, because they don’t know any better and they aren’t white-hat hackers after all….

Remaining unconsidered by iMedicalApps is the plausibility of what Master Data Cruncher IMS Health is taking on with AppScript and AppNucleus [TTA 15 Dec]: a proprietary 25-point methodology (AppScore) that automates the classification and evaluation of health apps plus a hosting platform that uses IMS information to assist developers in creating secure, effective apps.

A far more detailed exploration of why at the very least an objective certification/evaluation process is needed is explored by Editor Charles in his continuing series Driving Up Medical App Usage in the UK, especially Part II (Part I here.) Watch for Part III shortly.

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