AMA's Madara: 'Digital snake oil' comments open discussion

Slips of paper that say "Success" and "Failure"

There have been two kinds of responses to American Medical Association CEO James Madara's comments on "digital snake oil"--those who are OK with the current pace of health IT and those who think it will get to a point where useful tools are “not clearly differentiated from the toys,” he said in an interview with AMA Wire.

Madara does not take offense at those who disagree with his comments, made at the association's recent annual meeting, because the differing opinions are opening up discussion on the topic.

However, he said, “there is too much fantasy right now, blending what could and should be." Madara said the AMA is carefully watching the changes digital health is ushering into medical care and is working to find and address challenges physicians face when it comes to health IT.

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As for what technologies currently constitute “snake oil,” Madara said his comments weren’t pointed at any tool in particular, but more as a “critique of a direct-to-consumer industry that exists today with little oversight and often questionable scientific evidence to support the claims made.”

He did, however, reiterate that many tools, such as blood pressure apps, are only for entertainment; they are “poorly-validated toys” that are slowing advancements in digital health, he said.

An example of Madara’s worries includes the findings of researchers published in JAMA Internal Medicine in March that a best-selling app to estimate blood pressure produced many false negatives, giving users the incorrect impression that the metric was in the normal range when, in fact, it was dangerously high.

Madara said while the AMA is not trying to slow health innovation, but rather speed it up, developers and the industry at large “need to get digital tools right.”

To learn more:
- check out the interview

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