December 22, 2015

MIT's Hacking Medicine Institute Is Gonna Find Out Which Digital Health Tools Are Naughty and Nice

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Christmas comes early this year for patients using digital health tools to manage their health. In early December, technical experts from MIT's Hacking Medicine Institute will release its naughty and nice list of health apps, connected medical devices, technology-enabled services and websites. The initial list, which has been reviewed by Harvard physicians, will include what the institute believes are the best digital health tools to assess and manage health conditions and for finding care. Updates to the list are planned throughout the year.

This list demonstrates the institute's effort to navigate through the sea of health apps on the market that vary in quality and content and find those that actually help people achieve their health outcomes. In the past, a for-profit entity similarly attempted to evaluate and rank apps technical functionality and medical content using a pay-for certification program. This program was suspended due to security flaws.

The institute implements a new, patient-centered process to evaluate the health apps. The Harvard clinicians focus on reviewing how the efficacy of these apps is influenced by the patient's behavior, their social connections, and other aspects of their environment. According to the co-founder of the institute, reviews also reflect the voice of engaged patients and a consortium of big self-insured employers, payers and hospital systems working to develop population of health data. In doing so, the institute strives to provide a credible and unbiased perspective on apps relied upon by prescribing physicians, consumers, and patients alike.

For creators health apps that receive positive reviews, the future looks bright. These creators will likely attract investors and become a competitive tool in a clinician's arsenal. From that point, creators may choose to scale up and partner with traditional entities like pharmaceutical manufacturers, hospitals and health systems, or chain pharmacies.

Confounding variables may undermine the credibility of the institute's positive reviews. For example, consumers may find health apps prescribed by clinicians or partnered with nationally recognized health systems to be more reliable than health apps procured through normal media channels. Thus, as with all digital health resources, consumers should check this list twice and use it to facilitate, not replace, conversations with a health care provider.

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