App certification a necessity, but a one-size-fits-all philosophy not the right path

Back in March, FierceMobileHealthcare reported on a paper published by a trio of physicians that focused on the need for mHealth app review and certification, stipulating the benefits and need given the increasing adoption and development of such tools.

The premise is to bring apps into the prescription realm, but to do so in a safe effective approach. Adam Powell, Ph.D., president of Payer+Provider Syndicate, wrote the paper with Adam Landman and David Bates, both of Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Partners Information Systems. Certification, the three physicians argued, will help providers adopt apps with confidence and credible reviews will foster patient confidence and use.

Last week, a pair of physicians chimed in and constructed a rebuttal, suggesting a more scalable and efficient approach would be to educate end users to serve in a quasi "review" role. Steven Chan, M.D., and Satish Misra, M.D., said they believe that certification is not a scalable strategy given the tens of thousand of apps available, and believe that empowering end users to become app literate "is a quicker and more viable large scale solution."

As Powell shared in an email interview with FierceMobileHealthcare, any one-size-fits-all strategy won't work given the variety and scope of emerging mHealth apps.

I agree wholeheartedly. It's sometimes hard to remember that we are just at the very start of the mHealth app evolution.

Prescribing apps is nothing like medical drug prescription and requires its own doctrine. The best remedy is likely one flexible enough to handle all the disparity and varied issues that come into play--from an app's focus to the end user's ability to understand and be literate about mobile health software and the devices being used.

Early innovations proving that mHealth apps are an incredibly diverse "drug"--ranging from simple heart-rate measurement to blood and bodily fluid monitoring, and the technology--while extremely promising, are still very much in their infancy. 

To that end, Powell said, the best certification and review path may be one that combines a plethora of approaches undertaken by all the shareholders invested in mHealth app use and adoption.

"Apps intended to produce outcomes which may readily be measured by sensors have the potential to be reviewed in an automated manner, while apps which produce outcomes which cannot be readily measured by sensors may require a more hands-on review process," he told FierceMobileHealthcare.

Powell said he believes that there is a tremendous opportunity for multiple players to play a leadership role in the review of apps.

The constructive, informative and open discussion between the physicians at present is refreshing and invaluable to ultimately mapping out what's needed and what's not when it comes to mHealth app review and certification.

Kudos to all for igniting what clearly is one of the most important discussions today in mHealth. Let's keep the conversation going. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)