Why health and medical apps should be certified

A draft of standards for a health and medical app certification program was released recently by Happtique.  As a matter of disclosure I am proud to have been the Chair of the panel that drafted these standards.  The standards are in draft form and are open to public comment until August 17, 2012.

While some might say that these standards add even more barriers to the commercial adoption of these technologies, there are substantial reasons for the need of such certification.

1. Consumers, patients, and healthcare providers want reliable, safe apps. Right now health and medical apps are the Wild West.  People want to know if the apps they download meet standards which protect them and their devices.  What is unique about the Happtique standards is that for the critical areas of privacy, security and usability, they draw heavily on work that has been done by MMA, GSMA, mHIMSS, and ACT.  In addition, the standards are designed to be consistent with any guidance or rules promulgated by U.S. regulatory agencies such as the FDA, FCC, FTC, and ONC. These standards give significant comfort to app users looking for quality products when it comes to their wellness or health care.  While there will be changes made to these standards over time, dictated by changes in technology, regulatory requirements, or user expectations, certification will always represent a mark of excellence.

2. App stores will request or showcase certified apps.  Commercial enterprises, hospitals and others are developing custom app stores for healthcare.  They may represent either app distributors, users, or both. In either case, they will desire the apps to meet standards expected of their CIOs, clinical administrators, risk management group, and institutional regulators. The owners of these stores might look to purchase only certified apps as a sign of their quality to users. The safety and privacy standards will be especially important in these environments.

3. Certification standards will serve as a guide for app developers.  If app developers have access to a comprehensive set of standards (as is furnished in the certification submission form) to work against, the development process can be focused, streamlined and economized. This certification process represents, aside from any necessary FDA approval process, one stop shopping for questions about best practice for app developers.

4. Certification will become a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Having an app certified meeting all the required standards may certainly be utilized when advertizing the app to a consumer, payer, patient, or provider. It immediately makes a statement about the quality of the product. Though it doesn’t differentiate it from another certified app in the same area (the certification is an all or nothing designation)  it jumps it to the front of the quality line, focusing the marketing message on the more ‘sexy’ elements.

5. Certification might become a standard for reimbursement and formulary placement by payers. The prescribing of medical apps will be a game changer for the pharmaceutical industry.  It will also change healthcare in general.  It is possible that payers will position apps on formularies as they do pharmaceuticals.  A certification designation might trigger a higher formulary position.

While none of the above justifications for app certification are definitive, common wisdom and historical perspective dictate that some or most are accurate or plausible. Medical apps present a new paradigm in healthcare, and new ways of evaluating them are necessary.  Today a large part of the healthcare system fabric consists of certifications.  Certification implies meeting defined and accepted standards easily transmitted to a user of a product or service. Medical apps are different as they emerge and play a larger role in healthcare.

David Lee Scher is a former cardiologist and a consultant at DLS Healthcare Consulting, LLC.  He blogs at his self-titled site, David Lee Scher, MD.

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