It will take a village, not just app makers, to enhance innovation

There is at least one person who believes the app developer community must get its collective act together and start truly innovating in mHealth software and devices. In a column at Wired, writer J.C. Herz doesn't pull any punches in making it clear she thinks software makers are the ones that need to make a dramatic strategy move if true innovation is going to happen.

Or, to put it more succinctly, she questions whether app developers and engineers will ever get off their comfy chairs making calorie-counting fitness devices and instead put needed time and energy into creating valuable tools like an app that helps aging adults dealing with memory loss.

"Can our innovators rise to the challenge of an aging, chronically ill society whose medical costs are swamping our economy?" said Herz, in her concluding remarks. This question comes after she quickly makes note of the formidable challenges, from regulatory oversight to interoperability, that are blocking mHealth innovation.

It's always refreshing to read a piece that cuts to the chase and makes a declarative opinion, and Herz backs her contentions with some substantial facts.

But in her aggressive call to action she makes two big mistakes: she dismisses the formidable challenges as quickly as she grudgingly acknowledges them and she lays the blame for a lack of innovation on just one set of shoulders involved in mHealth tech.

And in doing, so she weakens her own stance.

In my view, it's almost irresponsible to push for complex mHealth data-centric tools boasting amazing analysis capability without first building proper security and regulatory oversight foundations.

Security, whether it's around data collection or data sharing, is a formidable challenge and one that must be attacked and conquered on an industry scale and not just by "young, healthy, highly educated, mostly male entrepreneurs [who] are developing marginally useful apps and gadgets for people just like themselves," as she describes today's fitness device developers.

Regulation is another almighty mountain that needs to be climbed, but it needs to be climbed by all the industry players, from lawmakers and the FTC commissioner to the healthcare vendor lobbyists and privacy advocates. Everyone needs to reach the pinnacle in crafting rules that protect users and users' data but doesn't stall innovation.

I don't think the lack of true mHealth tools is the fault of laziness by developers, as Herz slightly implies, or a reticence by app makers to avoid dealing with privacy rules and FDA approval or even the hassle of integration with legacy systems. A developer can't tackle even one of those never mind all of those essential and critical aspects in tech innovation on their own or even as an industry group. So instead they've gone where they can with apps--counting calories and heart rates and steps walked.

True mHealth app innovation will come and there's no need for it to arrive overnight, quickly cobbled together just so that "progress" can be boasted about. This isn't browser innovation or making the thinnest laptop or a tablet that grandma can use without a manual.

Mobile healthcare is about personal data, confidential knowledge that most of us have no inclination to share with anyone except those we trust. We don't want it collected without knowing who has future access. We don't want it shared unless we authorize such sharing. We want the true mHealth tools to produce accurate and valuable insight we can trust.

I believe a majority of today's developers want to be part of that strategy and will be part of it, and aren't focused, as Herz claims, on making a splash at a hackathon rather than creating real tools that will help sick people.

I believe, unlike Herz, that today's app innovators will rise to the challenge of an aging, chronically-ill society whose medical costs are swamping our economy. But we all have to play a role in moving all the big obstacles out of their path.

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