There's a bad app for that

By far the most popular story on Pulse+IT this week was our report on a presentation by Semantic Consulting's Tim Blake at HIC last month on the guide to health apps he and his team have developed for Primary Health Tasmania, the TasVegas PHN.

Mr Blake and his team have put thousands of hours of work into curating the guide, which includes detail and reviews on a couple of hundred apps. While a searchable directory of health apps is a great resource, it can also be used by GPs to prescribe useful apps for patients, with the 'script' emailed with a single click and a note added to the medical record.

The plan is to integrate the guide into GP clinical software, although as it's an expensive exercise that's some way down the road. In the meantime, Mr Blake says he's in discussions with other interested parties and is looking at a revenue model to fund further development.

With tens of thousands of apps out there and new ones being created every day, the question is why a guide like this hasn't been done before. Well, it has, sort of. In New Zealand, Health Navigator is building a library that is relevant to consumers in both countries, and in Australia, Victoria's public health promotion agency VicHealth has a pretty good guide to healthy living apps. Like the digital health guide, it uses the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS) developed by the Queensland University of Technology to rate the effectiveness of apps.

Both of these are very much aimed at consumers, however, while the digital health guide is aimed at GPs. And while the VicHealth directory is pretty good, we liked even more the extra resource the developer team from Dialogue Consulting produced to guide developers on how to create a decent and effective app.

One reason that Pulse+IT doesn't cover the start-up, meet-up and hack-up scenes too closely is that the bright young things involved inevitably proclaim they are building an app that will solve this problem or that disease or usher in world peace. They almost always can't or won't, and most have been tried before and failed. We are also constantly amazed that a lot of people don't seem to have a revenue model sorted out when they release these things.

One app that we always liked but that seemed to have gone belly-up is PicSafe, which lets doctors take clinical images and share them while still maintaining patient privacy. PicSafe always looked promising to us but what would we know: despite a huge amount of time, effort and money it never really took off and folded in 2015. We thought we'd heard the last of it until this week, when one of the developers contacted us to say he'd resurrected PicSafe, made it simpler and easier to use, and it was again on the market.

We'll hope for the best for that app but that, and Mr Blake's presentation, got us thinking about the pros and cons of certification and regulation of apps that make health claims. A story that caught our eye this week from the US concerned fears that medical devices could be hacked. Unlike health apps, medical devices are pretty strictly regulated and certified, but what to make of the news that heart transplant patients who received a particular type of pacemaker are being urged to pop back in to see their surgeon for a software update? We shudder to think of the reaction if it throws up an error 404, heartbeat not found.

This brings us to our poll question for this week: Do you think health and medical apps need to be regulated like medical devices? Sign up for our weekend edition to vote or leave your comments below.

Our poll last week asked: Do you think Telstra will stick with its health division in the long term? Despite T Health's protestations that it's in for the long haul, just 23 per cent of our readers reckon they'll stick it out, compared to 77 per cent in the negative.


0 # Terry Hannan 2017-09-02 08:25
Kate, this is a very good posting about a very difficult topic to discuss. The following site from Johns Hopkins that assesses Apps may benefit Pulse+IT readers. Terry

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