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HIMSS, AMA Join Forces on mHealth App Evaluation

HIMSS, the American Medical Association,the American Heart Association and the DHX Group are launching a new mHealth app evaluation and certification partnership.

By Eric Wicklund

- A new collaboration has launched to help evaluate and certify mHealth apps.

The American Medical Association, American Heart Association, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and DHX Group have launched Xcertia, described as a partnership to “advance the body of knowledge around clinical content, usability, privacy and security, interoperability and evidence of efficacy” for mHealth apps.

“The collaboration builds on each organization’s ongoing efforts to foster safe, effective and reputable health technologies, while complementing our mutual commitment to advancing innovation in medicine, and improving the health of the nation,” the four organizations said in a joint press release. “Our combined expertise, along with a diverse membership, will leverage the insights of clinicians, patients and industry experts to help improve patient care and increase access to data.”

The announcement, made as HIMSS and the Personal Connected Health Alliance convene their annual Connected Health Summit outside Washington D.C., follows a number of studies that criticize the mHealth app market for its lax standards and security protocols.

The latest, conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the University of Michigan medical School, concluded that mHealth apps suffer from the “inverse care law,” in which they help small populations at the expense of other, larger groups of patients who might benefit even more.

READ MORE: UK Tries Again With a Library of Certified Mobile Health Apps

Among the more recent studies:

  • In August, the Future of Privacy Forum found that only about 60 percent of health and fitness apps have a privacy policy and link to that policy from the app store.  “While most apps do provide consumers with the most basic notices about how their personal data will be collected, used and shared, it’s also clear that a significant number do not,” the report concludes. “Although a privacy policy is only a starting point for protecting individuals’ privacy, it is an important baseline standard all around the world. Now more than ever, it is important for consumers to take a moment to look for – and look through – an app’s privacy policy before downloading it to their devices.”
  • In July, a study of some of the most popular mHealth apps by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that many are too complicated to use or understand. By the end of that study, only about 40 percent of the apps tested had yielded useful data before the user gave up. A similar study by the Commonwealth Fund in February also found that few mHealth apps succeed in promoting patient engagement.
  • In March, Arxan Technologies surveyed healthcare executives and found that roughly 90 percent feel their organization’s apps are “adequately secure” – while a separate review found that 86 percent of the most popular apps used by healthcare providers aren’t that safe.
  • In February, Research2Guidance issued a report indicating healthcare providers aren’t convinced that mHealth apps will benefit their patients, and they expect their patients will rely more on app stores for mHealth apps rather than recommendations from doctors or pharmacies.
  • And in January, Accenture reported that while two-thirds of the nation’s hospitals offer mHealth apps to their patients, only about 2 percent of those patients are using them, primarily because those apps aren’t what the patient wants or needs. “Simply having a mobile app is not enough,” Brian Kalis, managing director of Accenture’s health practice, said in a press release. “Hospital apps are failing to engage patients by not aligning their functionality and user experience with what consumers expect and need. Consumers want ubiquitous access to products and services as part of their customer experience, and those who become disillusioned with a provider’s mobile services - or a lack thereof - could look elsewhere for services.”

Xcertia joins a growing number of organizations looking to certify mHealth apps for both patients and providers. Companies like IMS Health and HealthTap focus on compiling lists of apps ranked by doctors. The Hacking Medicine Institute’s RANKED Health program, a non-profit launched out of Harvard and MIT, evaluates apps based on both health outcomes and consumer use. And a partnership between Columbia University’s HITLAB and Las Vegas-based Social Wellth subjects the apps to a lengthy list of standards, including “a set of science-based, industry-developed and reviewed criteria that, when implemented, can be used to objectively evaluate health apps against key performance metrics in the areas of security, privacy, operability and content.”

Just last month, the AMA signaled its support of – and concerns with – mHealth when it adopted a new set of policies designed to support physicians using mHealth devices and apps while calling for better regulation of apps.

“While some mobile apps and devices are subject to FDA regulation, others are not, and do not undergo rigorous evaluation before deployment for general use, which raises quality and patient safety concerns,” the AMA’s Council on Medical Service said in a report adopted at the 2015 interim meeting. “Without ensuring that there is strong and sufficient evidence that provides clinical validation to mHealth apps and associated devices, trackers and sensors, physicians will not fully integrate mHealth apps into their practices. More investment is needed in expanding the evidence base necessary to show the accuracy, effectiveness, safety and security of mHealth apps.”

And while apps are and will continue to be popular with consumers, providers have yet to buy into their potential.

READ MORE: How to Design and Develop a Mobile Health Application

Roughly a year ago, Jon Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, said healthcare providers recognize the fast-growing mHealth app industry, but they still see it as a risky proposition. He says there’s only “a handful of apps” that have proven their value to providers.

“Don’t just show us a new app that’s going to do wonderful new things,” he said during an ATA webcast. “Show us how it’s going to be accepted and adopted and used so two years from now it’s still a popular app.”

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