Johns Hopkins to evaluate efficacy of health apps

Last week we told you about some ambitious app development going on at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Well this week, Hopkins did themselves one better: They're diving in to not only create apps, but also to evaluate the health principles behind the tens of thousands of health apps on the market now, according to Alain Labrique, director of the school's Global mHealth Initiative.

In particular, Hopkins wants to judge whether mobile health technology is more or less effective than traditional care, such as in-person visits, Labrique tells FierceMobileHealthcare. The vetting is being done by dozens of faculty and students around the university, and is spread out under a total of 51 official studies underway right now, he says. 

"It's a nascent field, and few health apps have been rigorously evaluated," Labrique told the Baltimore Sun in a recent article. "A lot of the apps you see out now have a disclaimer, or should have a disclaimer, that they have not been validated through rigorous research. It comes down to the individuals' perceptions that the app works for them."

But it's not an app-specific evaluation process, Labrique tells FierceMobileHealthcare. The Hopkins teams will be testing the core health principles behind the mobile health projects they're working on, such as determining which mobile technologies work best for certain conditions, or which approaches (smartphone apps vs. simple text messaging) yield better results in different environments. 

The idea is to establish solid clinical research behind these principles, so that app developers, government regulators, and others can use them to develop apps, evaluate apps, and the like, according to Labrique.

"We want to identify sound health principles that can inform the design of these apps and other mobile products," Labrique says. 

We'll be interested to see how the Hopkins results might dovetail with, or inform, the Happtique evaluation process. Happtique developed an industry-backed taskforce to create a formula for vetting individual health apps, which it hopes will be ready later this year. Our guess: Johns Hopkins will be more than happy to leave the app-specific testing to Happtique.

To learn more:
- read the Baltimore Sun article
- dig into Johns Hopkins' study "results" webpage
- check out Mobiledia's story