Last month, my colleague Meaghan Sheehan wrote about the accelerated growth of Fitbit, a well-known, fitness-focused example of a wearable device leveraging the power of data and applying it to the broader category of HealthIT. At about the same time, the CEO of the American Medical Association, Dr. James Madara, caused a hot-minute kerfuffle with his remarks at their annual meeting in Chicago when he seemed to equate the myriad of digital healthcare tools to the “snake oil” cure-alls that were hawked around the turn of the last century.

He stated that, “From ineffective electronic health records, to an explosion of direct-to-consumer digital health products, to apps of mixed quality. This is the digital snake oil of the early 21st century.” He continued by saying, “Even those digital products that might be helpful often lack a way of enriching the relationship between the physician and the patient.”

Many in the HealthIT industry at first found the remarks to be controversial. But, in about the time it takes to download the latest anti-Alzheimer’s brain teaser app, many have come around to see the logic in his words, resulting in some healthy conversation on the topic (you can read Dr. Madara’s follow-up remarks here, by the way). There is no denying the intrinsic value in people being able to “plug-in” to their own health metrics, and there is an established impact of those tools, apps and digital services that have, in fact, demonstrated measurable results when it comes to disease and medication management or patient engagement. Still, he is correct in starting to shine a light on those tools (in whichever form) that are either not yet living up to their promised potential or, far worse, are altogether misleading for entertainment or profit’s sake and absent any intent to actually improve the state of healthcare.

Clearly, a category as broad as “digital health” would suggest that there are tools that sit on polar ends of this “snake oil” spectrum. So how do we better realize the promise these tools were meant to offer and start to weed out the useful from the useless?

Our client Decisio Health’s CEO, Bryan Haardt, suggests “they should be designed hand-in-hand with the clinician to improve workflow and physician-patient interaction.” And he should know. When developing their Clinical Intelligence Platform, the Decisio team worked closely with both clinicians as well as the FDA to ensure the tool met the exacting standards of clearance for a medical device.

Another critical factor that Dr. Madara attempted to address, is the fact that “digital tools often don’t connect with each other — interoperability remains a dream.” Sachin Jain recently wrote about the role a combination of digital health tools play at his organization CareMore in remotely monitoring high risk patient populations to help reduce readmissions. Importantly, he illustrates that such benefits are the result of a broader continuum of care or, as he calls it, a “connected ecosystem.”

As the digital health marketplace matures, pressure will only continue to increase for those that wish to survive within the category. To do so, they’ll need to clearly define and standardize both the metrics and platforms they then endeavor to deliver upon. No single tool will provide a panacea, but the more evidence-based, data- and clinician-informed they are, the greater the opportunities for patient and provider success.

So what do you think? How do we capture the successes of digital progress we’ve seen in other industries and apply them to make the most of HealthIT?


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