US study calls for quality control for healthcare apps

According to a new report from US researchers who study mobile health tools, a lack of quality control means customers and doctors cannot tell the best apps from the worst in the market.

“There’s not a lot of guidance on which apps are recommended,” said Dr. Adam Landman, Chief Medical Information Officer for health information innovation and integration at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US. He is one of the lead authors of a study published in the journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

Mobile health apps a growing market

Today, there are reportedly over 165,000 mobile health apps available, and the market is expected to continue growing. According to Rock Health, it will reach US$31 billion by 2020, up from US$10 billion in 2015.

Health app quality study

The study aimed to undercover if a gold-standard rating system would be possible; to inform consumers which apps were providing reliable, safe, information, and which weren’t.

However, the team struggled to find a reliable rating system.

Asking experts mobile health technology to rate different apps, Landman and his team discovered that the reviewers all gave vastly different scores, and could only agree on how interactive the apps were.

Notable, the reviewers’ scores differed on critical characteristics such as privacy policies, performance issues, bugs and the availability of software support.

Securing confidential patient information

“I think one thing that’s concerning is that people are giving up a lot of heath information to these apps and they don’t realise what happens to your personal health information when you give it up to the app,” said John Torous, a Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and senior resident in the Harvard Longwood Psychiatry Residency Training Program. He was a member of the study team. 

The study concluded that more research is needed to determine a good rating system. The role of the physicians was emphasised.

“Clinician judgment thus remains critical in evaluating and understanding the clinical role of mobile phone apps,” the study concluded.


Edited from sources by Cecilia Rehn.

Sources: The Boston Globe
JMIR mHealth uHealth 2016;4(1):e15
IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics
Rock Health