Taming the Wild Wild West of Mobile Health

By @Spitz

Legacy and Context

At the dawn of the “World Wide Web†in the early 90s, sites started to exponentially and with tremendous variability in quality proliferate, most users unsure what they were good for and how to find them. Closed platforms like AOL and open ones like Yahoo! helped people navigate, until Google mashed hundreds of portal links into a single, beckoning keyword box that became the gateway for the world’s information.

Only a few years ago enter social media, a channel that connects people-to-people instead of people-to-websites. The hero: A rambunctious, paradoxically introverted Harvard whiz kid who rapidly won the profiles and engagement of over a billion people. His smarts: Standardizing and cleaning up the messy MySpace UX, integrating a Twitteresque Newsfeed, and insisting registrants use their actual names to make the channel transparent, genuine, and emotionally resonant.

Interestingly enough, the mobile landscape now harkens back to the golden age of digital, websites swapped with apps, similarly presented in droves to the user forced to somehow find and figure out how to use them. The situation is exacerbated in healthcare, where lives are literally at stake and functional sophistication enables a smartphone to cross from health and wellness support into the realm of medical device.

Solutions to “mobile health overload†are welcome, recommendations including the creation of open source gateways to help consolidate apps, content standardization to assist with readability and use, and personalization to prevent saturation and enhance relevance. Although these and other ideas pave the way for the mobile health future, few go beyond best practice into successful implementation.

Analogous to adherence remaining a major challenge facing the pharmaceutical industry itself, getting doctors to “prescribe†mobile health apps and patients to actually use them is paramount. Essential to this compliance challenge has been two interrelated issues: 1) How to facilitate and encourage app distribution; and 2) How to guarantee app quality?

Happy to Have Happtique

Both needs have been met by a single organization, Happtique, founded in 2010 by the business arm within the Greater New York Hospital Association. Happtique made news in August 2012 when it launched mRx, an “iTunes for Mobile Health†from which physicians could find and distribute—essentially prescribe like a formulary—apps for their patients.

Addressing the second challenge, that of helping to guarantee quality, has just been met through their Happtique Health App Certification Program. “The vast sea of mobile health apps—over 40,000 across all platforms—can be overwhelming,†says Ben Chodor, CEO of Happtique. “Healthcare professionals and consumers need third-party certification to verify that the app they are prescribing or downloading delivers credible content, contains safeguards for user data, and functions as described.â€

Developed under the direction of a panel composed of recognized leaders in mHealth, healthcare tech, certification and accreditation programs, patient advocacy groups, and reps from key Federal agencies, the certification program is designed to provide qualifying apps with a “Seal of Approval†assuring healthcare professionals and patients download and engage with apps that are accurate, functional, and helpful.

Here’s how the certification works via a simplified infographic:

Healthcare System Implications

“Many pharma companies see the mobile channel as an opportunity to get closer to the healthcare delivery system in ways that leverage their science excellence and marketing smarts,†says Lois Drapin, Chief Verticals Officer of Happtique. “Standards may provide additional guidance to legal and regulatory… and to brand teams as they contract with developers to build mobile health apps.â€

What’s particularly interesting is that Happtique is a non-governmental, third-party organization that has been able to create a trustworthy, authoritative platform for physicians to prescribe mobile apps like formularies to their patients—and now ensure that these apps they recommend are certified by experts in clinical, IT, and communications to accomplish their goals and do so safely and reliably.

The analog to the healthcare industry’s ongoing struggle with social media is striking. The raging debate as to whether pharma should actively participate in the space, and the exact role the FDA should play in providing guidance for the Internet and social channels is in meaningful ways bypassed. If Happtique can create distribution and accreditation frameworks for mobile health, why can’t other third-party, non-governmental orgs do the same for social media?

Meanwhile, Happtique is just getting started. “We believe that certification will come to have robust meaning not only for patients, but for hospitals and healthcare professionals, especially when creating their app formularies and when they choose to ‘prescribe’ at the point of care.†By solving pressing distribution and validation challenges, Happtique is a genuine maverick of mHealth innovation and action.

Summary and Road Ahead

Mobile health guidance is nothing new, but Happtique represents a novel and eminently successful approach toward a robust, participatory, flexible, and most importantly safe mobile health future. Happtique has blazed a trail that sets its own precedent, enabling and encouraging the seamless integration of cutting edge tools into the point of care experience and throughout a patient’s life.

“Mobile health is ultimately about fostering behavioral change to improve patient outcomes,†insists Tammy Lewis, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer of Happtique. “Getting patients to take their medication begins with getting them to download and use helpful apps. At Happtique we’re working hard to get the right app into the right hands in a way that instills convenience and confidence.”

Follow @Happtique on Twitter, and leave your comments below!


Michael Spitz , known most often as just "Spitz," is Editor-in-Chief of the Pixels & Pills and a prollific tweeter, blogger, and article writer, active in digital health across all specialties. Follow him @SpitzStrategy.



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