mHealth: The next Theranos?

  • The Journal of Medical Internet Research says “Although mHealth is growing in popularity, the evidence for efficacy is still limited,” wrote the study’s corresponding author, David Novillo-Ortiz, MLIS, MSc, PhD.
  • “More than 100,000 (health) applications are now available in the leading app stores, and the assortment is constantly growing,” says a BAEK study that was discussed at the congress. “But only a fraction of the programs are certified as medical products.”
  • John Torous, MD, a researcher and psychiatry resident at Harvard University, said “We have little evidence about the risks or benefits of smartphone use in clinical care,”
  • “The problem with these apps is they’re so new and novel; it’s probably going to be hard establishing a standard of care, or what a reasonable doctor would, and would not do when using these products,” says Nathan Cortez, a professor and associate dean for research at SMU Dedman School of Law.

Theranos was the result of over promising and under delivering (and lying) on blood testing are we witnessing the same thing with mHealth?  What happens if a mHealth app indicates that a person has high blood sugar when actually it’s low?  Who do we blame?

mHealth can best described as “the wild, wild West” when it comes to proven technology and apps .  What’s needed is a “clinical approach” to this technology.  They need to be tested to show that the data is reliable and that patients will use them as directed.  Until then the hype wheel is going to continue to spin until that one, tested, mHealth app or device makes a breakthrough.

What is the promise of mHealth?  For now it’s in helping patients become aware that they need to see a trained medical specialist in case of a problem or abnormality. Only an HCP can determine if there is a need for more tests and diagnose a patient, it can’t be left up to apps with patients’ self treating.

mHealth is coming, but right now it’s a long way from becoming accepted medical technology.  An approach that includes studies with patients and physicians is needed to separate the promise from the reality.

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