Digital health app reviews: Time to get it right

There are many challenges in mHealth, but one of the most important hasn't gotten necessary attention: the need for a verifiable methodology to evaluate and assess the growing wave of mHealth apps.

An accredited and trustworthy evaluation is a win-win for everyone: developers, app sellers, consumers, clinicians and providers. Its top of mind this week, in part due to a new study.

The study's conclusion states what has been known for years: A strategy is necessary for reviewing and assessing apps as consumers grow more enthusiastic about using such tools and providers realize how valuable apps can be both in terms of treatment and patient engagement.

Adam Powell, Ph.D., the study's corresponding author and president of Boston-based healthcare consultants Payer+Provider Syndicate, is actively involved in pushing ahead with such validation.

While some in the industry advocate leaving app ratings and ranking to consumers, and others see a role for federal agency involvement, Powell's belief is that neither is the best approach, at least at this point. He instead is striving to get automated and handcrafted reviews going, and is also in favor of what he calls "rigorous self-certification" with random auditing by an outside party.

Another potentially viable strategy could be the recommendation of an ex-Food and Drug Administration deputy commissioner posted in the Wall Street Journal in August 2014 that the FDA should exempt most apps from premarket review, but work with tech groups to define basic technical standards--standards which would help consumers in determining which apps to use or not use and also drive innovation as developers wouldn't be worried about potential lawsuits and legal action.

As a Journal of the American Medical Association article last year reported, the number of viable, safe and beneficial mHealth apps is a big unknown. It's time to change that. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)