The Rise of Third Party mHealth App Stores

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This week, UK-based healthcare research and consultancy firm PatientView launches an mHealth app store focused on consolidating a collection of clinically validated, trustworthy mobile health apps into an mHealth app store for patients and care providers. The project has a good deal of support from a number of major players including pharmaceutical heavyweights GSK, Janssen, and Novo Nordisk, as well as several international telecom companies, and a number of public health entities across Europe.

PatientView’s app store, www.myhealthapps.net, which runs under the tagline “Every app, tried and tested by people like you,” launched with 307 apps, each reviewed by established patient advocacy groups that volunteered to support the mHealth app store initiative.

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Within the app store, apps are displayed alongside a general description, a listing of public approvals it has earned like inclusion in NHS’s health apps library, and a link to the iOS or Android marketplaces where it can be downloaded. A rating, based on a 5-heart rating system is also presented. Each app is rated on whether the app meets the following five criteria:

  • Gives people more control over their condition
  • Easy to use
  • Can be used regularly
  • Allow networking with other people like them
  • Trustworthy

The details section for the app explains who developed the app, who funded it, what organizations are acting as medical advisors, and what patient organizations participated in the review of it. There is also a section for patient comments.

The new app library will join a growing list of third-party entities dedicated to bringing a higher level of clinical validation and transparency to the app store experience than either Apple or Android have been able to deliver thus far.

Happtique

By far the biggest name in the game, Happtique is focusing on physicians and health systems as its end users, rather than patients. To do this, the company has created a certification process that mHealth apps can apply for to earn inclusion in Happtiques “formulary” of apps that the company sells to health systems so its physicians can recommend the apps to their patients without concern.

HealthTap

HealthTap is primarily a platform where anonymous users can ask health and wellness questions and board-certified physicians will answer them for all to read and learn from. The site recently expanded this format to include a physician recommended app store.

HealthTap crowdsources the recommendation process by letting the HealthTap physicians recommend whatever they would typically recommend to either their patients or to eachother. The library is sorted into categories, and displays apps by which have received the most recommendations. This format allows either a patient or a physician to gain from the experience of coming to the HealthTap app store.

Medscape is currently the most recommended app on the HealthTap app store, with 194 doctors recommending it.

NHS Choices Health Apps Library

In England, the NHS has addressed the problem of clinically unsafe mobile health by creating its own patient-focused apps store that presents apps that have been reviewed by the NHS to ensure that they are clinically safe, that the information contained within them comes from a verifiable source, and that the developers are not misusing personal information that is collected.

Wellocracy

Wellocracy has created a mobile health app library catering predominantly to fitness enthusiasts. The site, which is run by the Center for Connected Health at Partners Healthcare, and in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital, reviews running apps and pedometer apps.

The one item this app store does not have is an independent review of how accurate the app is. While mobile fitness apps are great, most fitness enthusiasts take total distance and total caloric burn estimates with a grain of salt. With Partners and Mass General behind it, one would think that this would be the type of consumer information Wellocracy could bring to the market.

Conclusion

The rise of third-party app stores grew from early research that clearly and unmistakably demonstrated that the mobile health app market had developed into a bit of a snake oil vendor fair, across all major app store markets. The topic has seen increased coverage in the news in the past year as a number of different curated app store resources have come online to address that issue. Some are focusing on physicians as primary end users, while others are marketing directly to patients.

HIStalk Connect’s own Dr. Travis addresses the topic in his own post this week, summarizing his take on the segment as such:

“At the end of the day, you have to get consumers to app stores — whoever the app store owner is — if they are going to be of any value. Consumers have to be motivated to go to an app store. What is the value of a curated list of mobile health apps if consumers aren’t searching for them?”

Travis makes a good point. Just because research has demonstrated that mobile app stores are full of questionable health apps, does not necessarily mean that there is consumer demand for an alternative. Are iOS and Android doing a bad enough job with the health and wellness section of their app stores that users will seek out third-party resources like these? While federally supported initiatives like the NHS Choices Health App Library are not under pressure to support themselves financially, for the rest, time will tell if there is indeed enough consumer demand to support curated mobile health app stores.

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