Health app overload can be addressed via 'gateway' apps

Suppliers of medical information need to join the open source movement and make use of standardized formats in order to allow third parties to create "valuable, mobile gateway" apps, according to an article published Feb. 11 in BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making.

The authors say the goal is to create a situation in which a single or a few health apps serve as gateways to medical information and features, functioning as a "mobile portal" which leads users directly to the most demanded health content.

The article makes the claim that "medical professionals and citizens are currently being overloaded with health apps." As a result, they "have difficulty with finding the right app, and information and features are fragmented over too many apps, thereby limiting their usefulness."

To remedy this "health app overload," the article argues that suppliers of apps need to do three things: use open source so a few apps can work as a gateway to medical information by incorporating information from different sources; standardize content so information provided via apps is readable; and content should be personalized towards an individual's characteristics and context.

For example, the article states, an 80 year old woman will probably not be interested in information for pregnant women, but will be interested in information about conditions that often affect the elderly, like osteoporosis. "By only disclosing the information, instructions and features that align with the characteristics and context of the health app user, information overload can be prevented," the article advises.

While guidelines for medical apps from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can partly reduce the problem of app overload by regulating app content and making it easier for users to select high quality apps, the authors assert that these FDA rules will apply to only a small set of medical apps and as a result the problem of app overload will not be solved by these regulations. It is therefore critical that third-party developers gain access to the medical content they need to create high quality health apps, according to the authors. 

"For this they are often dependent on non-commercial health organizations, such as Centers for Disease Control, who create and distribute this content," the article states. "Therefore, these suppliers of medical information and features must change the way and conditions in which they publish their digital content. They should enable free-market parties to create gateway apps, after which competition among these services is most likely to result in one or a few high quality apps that are most popular."

In a 2012 survey, respondents were asked several questions about open-source versus closed platforms, all of which were answered in favor of open source. The survey's author said that one of the most important activities going on in the mHealth market is the willingness of major players to cooperate or create "high-profile alliances." Building a standards-based ecosystem approach through these alliances, he said, is key to mHealth's future success.

For more:
- read the journal article