Physicians and researchers: Potholes remain in expansion of digital health highway

The advent of digital health devices, apps and platforms is presenting encouraging results but there's still a long road ahead in declaring such technology will result in life-changing capabilities for future generations, say researchers and scientists involved in a wide berth of industry projects.

While consumer interest continues to grow and as innovation increases, compelling challenges remain, from managing growing data piles to tracking users' activities and the inherent privacy aspect, reveals an in-depth Science magazine report. As one clinical health psychologist tells Science, the realm of commercial self-improvement apps is currently "the world of the cowboys." Ida Sim, an informaticist and doctor adds, "it's sort of opening a window into parts of people's lives we haven't really had access to before."

The Science report details a slew of big and small innovations--from tools aimed at helping smokers quit to those that can determine how much exercise a healthy heart truly needs--and also examines whether wearables are making accurate assessments to a NIH-funded project focused on the presence of potential temptations relating to unhealthy behavior.

Yet, at the same time, the need for verification of such tools remains strong.

"If we're going to do science with these devices, we really want to validate them ourselves," Euan Ashley, a cardiologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, tells Science.

Weak spots in mHealth was a thread in many talks during the Connected Health Symposium in Boston in October. For instance, Robert Pearl, CEO of Kaiser Permanente's Permanente Medical Group, said wearables, such as fitness trackers, aren't viable tools for medical care, but called them good holiday gifts. In another panel, focused on how wearable-collected data could mesh with clinical database info, Validic co-founder and chief technology officer Drew Schiller described current wearables' abilities as "relatively worthless," saying the data often is not actionable.

The Science insight aligns with a recent report that notes the mHealth app industry is slowly maturing and the majority have not achieved the Holy Grail of improving patient health.

For more information:
- read the Science article

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