Health IT

Stop dumbing down digital health: There’s no killer app for healthcare and that’s a good thing

The rise of app and device ecosystems will undermine the importance of any one app.

It’s one of the most commonly uttered phrases I hear from investors, analysts and reporters: what will be the next killer app? It’s really an issue for the consumer wellness market which apps tend not to be encumbered by FDA regulations as long as they stay well away from the realm of diagnostics. The speculation of a killer app has arguably increased in anticipation of Apple Watch coming to market.

I would argue that the digital health trend of companies like Under Armour, Validic and Valencell creating communities in which data from apps and wearables can be de-siloed and aggregated lessen the importance of any one app. I think these app communities will grow in number and expand into other areas of health management. The ability to view not just activity, but blood pressure, weight, eating patterns, behavior in context is an exciting prospect. It’s also beyond the ability of any one app to do all of these things equally well. The smart ecosystems will be the ones that allow for overlap of competing apps.

The complexities of a healthcare landscape with diverse patient communities and participants for whom a variety of patient engagement tools resonate, rooting for any one app seems exactly the wrong way to go. It reminds me of the speculation over which pharmaceutical companies will produce a blockbuster drug.  The problem is that it leads to a lot of copycat companies and products and shifts attention away from identifying and addressing other pain points in healthcare.

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IMS Health Institute for Healthcare Informatics drew attention to this problem a couple of years ago with its report highlighting areas where there was an embarrassment of app riches. Among those areas were apps to find a physician, preventive care, filling a prescription and compliance.

We should spend more time urging developers to communicate with patient and medical professionals so they continue to develop apps not only to help improve the patient experience and the way they manage their care but to improve communication with healthcare professionals. For mobile health apps to continue to be relevant, we should wish a little less for a killer app and a little more for diversity and addressing the needs of each patient community.

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