The correlation between ​Theranos and digital health

IN SUMMARY: According to the HBO documentary on Theranos “there’s a lot of lying in Silicon Valley.” The lying is still going on when it comes to digital and mhealth, and the venture capital money is again flowing. The internet has allowed the hype to take root and there aren’t enough people asking the hard questions.

According to Business insider “there’s little evidence that the majority of mHealth apps are effective. Out of the hundreds of thousands of mHealth apps on the market, the effectiveness of only 22 has been evaluated in the last decade, per a study published in Nature. The lack of research is telling of mHealth’s precariousness — and it begs the question: is mHealth too risky to be implemented in clinical settings?

The average mHealth app costs $425,000 to develop, and if an app ends up being a flop, providers will have to face the financial consequences brought on by an influx of patients.

STAT news also took aim at digital health “in 2018, digital health firms had a record year, raking in $8.1 billion from investors buying into the industry’s efforts to re-engineer the delivery of medical services, according to the venture capital firm Rock Health. That’s a 42 percent increase over the prior year. Valuations are skyrocketing before companies can establish clinical value and reliable revenue; many young firms are quickly burning through cash and asking for more. And even as pressure and expectations soar, the financial relief valves are clogged — U.S. digital health firms have not seen an IPO since 2016, and acquisition activity, though still considerable, has declined in the past few years”.

Christian Terwiesch, a professor of health policy and innovation at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School said “there’s a lot of buzz, but we haven’t seen as much delivery on the promises,”, he added that even companies’ whose technologies work as advertised must overcome significant barriers to win uptake in the health care industry.

Notice the correlation?

The promise of digital health is not living up to the hype. Millennials are on track to be the unhealthiest generation in history and despite the increase in sales of wearables Americans are still the unhealthiest in the world.

There aren’t enough people asking the hard questions and that’s scary. For example, news sites are repeating press release talking points around the Apple Watch study but only STAT News said “while the Apple Heart Study will tell us many new things about the watch, what it won’t do — what it can’t do — is provide any insight into the device’s real overall effects on health. This is because the study was not a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard of medical research. Unfortunately the immediate response to this new study is likely to be even more irrational exuberance and premature implementation of a potentially harmful technology before there is any evidence showing that the Apple Watch actually improves human health”.

In the REAL world, digital health is part of overall health but it alone is not the answer. Companies like Rock Health have a vested interest in releasing digital health statistics but the numbers, alone, are a canard.

The only winners in the Theranos downfall were the lawyers who racked up $300 million in legal fees. Will we learn the lesson?