Mobile health apps have enjoyed a huge surge in popularity in recent years. The rising ubiquity of mobile devices and wearable technology has pushed health technology to the forefront of the tech market, with studies from PIP Mobile Health finding almost 100,000 health and fitness apps currently available on the market.
Devices like Fitbit and the Apple Watch now tout easy access and integration with these apps as a defining feature. It’s a clear selling point for developers and tech companies, especially when studies like the one by Research2Guidance estimating revenues from health apps to hit $26 billion in 2017.
Yet the dearth of clinical research backing these apps has remained an area of concern for healthcare providers, and should give pause to consumers as well. Developers are not required to have any background or research in health and medicine to develop their apps, and stories of deceptive marketing tactics abound, bringing into question the true efficacy of the mobile health market in terms of actual results for users and patients.
In September 2015, developers of UltimEyes agreed to pay $150,000 to settle an enforcement action by the Federal Trade Commission for claiming their app was “scientifically shown to improve vision.” The FTC found they had no such scientific backing at all.
The American Heart Association hopes it can play a role in addressing this problem. The venerated non-profit recently launched its Center for Health & Technology Innovation (CHTI), with the goal of bringing developers, technology companies, and investors together with clinical leaders, researchers, and healthcare providers to create mobile health solutions that can actually provide patients with results in terms of fostering proper cardiac care, as well as reducing the chances of heart attack or stroke.
The Science Behind Technology
The promotion of health apps and mobile health tech by doctors and healthcare providers has so far been hindered, or at least dampened, by the lack of measurable outcome and the scarcity of empirical data to back up the health benefit implication of these applications. Traditional medical breakthroughs and advancements, on the other hand, are backed by years of research, hundreds of tests and trials, and close scrutiny by peer and government organizations.
The CHTI aims to bring some of that focus on data driven results to the consumer health tech space so that healthcare providers can integrate them into useful and easily accessible treatment protocols and recommendations.
“Traditionally, the tech space has offered rapid innovation and disruptive technologies but lacked the scientific rigor and clinical research,” said Dr. Eric Peterson, distinguished professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology and the Associate Director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. “The CHTI seeks to bring tech and health science together so that each can benefit from the other's strengths.”
The goal is that, eventually, those extra 500 steps a day, that average hours of sleep, and the diet notifications from your meal diary will all contain benefits and recommendations backed by ample study, and become easily integrated into the health analysis during your doctor’s office visit.
Collaboration is Key
The CHTI will help bring together experts in the health care, technology, and entrepreneurial space to foster health care technology with a strong scientific foundation. As part of the nation's oldest non-profit organization devoted to fighting heart disease and stroke, healthcare technology developers that collaborate with the CHTI can gain access to research and experts in the field or cardiology and stroke, to help bring their technological vision to life with insight from the latest findings in the scientific field.
Tech companies can then integrate their technology with AHA resources to encourage development and adoption of digital healthcare solutions. Through its partnership with leading tech companies and innovative startups, the CHTI will also provide a centralized space to explore technology and data from cross functional groups, helping each sector benefit from the expertise of the others. This all leads to better solutions and better apps for mobile health users.
“Collaboration is essential to delivering health technology innovations that can make a meaningful difference in patients' lives,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association. “Combining our foundation of scientific knowledge with the technology and data management expertise of our partners is the most efficient pathway to achieving progress.”
So next time an app comes with the AHA stamp of approval, consumers can be sure that at least some actual research went into those artery protecting exercises. Even if those planks and crunches don’t hurt any less, at least you’ll know you’re doing your body some real good.