Happtique aims to build a standard for mobile health apps

Many of us are using our smartphones to track our sleep or help manage our weight. A few use them to monitor our blood pressure or track insulin levels, but it’s hard for consumers or their doctors to say what’s a worthwhile app or not. But there’s no gold standard for patients or doctors. Even the Food and Drug Administration is trying to figure out the health app marketplace (GigaOM Pro sub req’d).
Happtique wants to change all that. The company spun out of the Greater New York Hospital Association Ventures to build an app store for hospitals and doctors. Its initial pilot involved 11 hospitals including Mount Sinai Hospital, the NYU School of Medicine, Beth Israel Medical Center — all in New York. But outside of creating app stores for individual hospitals to offer to patients, Happtique is now focusing on a bigger goal — creating a trusted standard for all medical apps.
Corey Ackerman, ┬ápresident of Happtique, explained that the hope is Happtique’s team of four experts can create a set of criteria by which to judge health applications and build a standards program around those criteria in the next six months. That standard will in turn help consumers and doctors know what apps to trust and help them filter the myriad options out there. Once those standards are set, Ackerman envisions developers paying to get their apps certified from Happtique, but would welcome a different model, provided it helped compensate the many doctors he believes will have to spend the time to review apps.
“Patients can go and can see a value in a set of standards for apps judged by actual doctors who treat that issue,” Ackerman said. “For example, oncologists won’t review diabetes apps.”
Developers who submit their apps would get feedback on how to make their app pass muster if it didn’t in the first place. It’s a model that would be similar to how device makers pay the Wi-Fi Alliance to get their gadgets certified. Happtique has convinced the following people to join its panel of experts to create the standards criteria:

  • Howard J. Luks, an associate professor of Orthopedic Surgery at New York Medical College and the Chief Of Sports Medicine And Arthroscopy at University Orthopedics, PC and Westchester Medical Center.
  • Franklin A. Shaffer, the Chief Executive Officer of CGFNS International, the certification organization for graduates of foreign nursing schools and largest global credentialing organization for nursing and allied healthcare personnel authorized by the Federal government.
  • Shuvo Roy, the director of the Biomedical Microdevices Laboratory and Associate Professor, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, School of Pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco.
  • Dave deBronkart, a cancer patient and blogger who has become a noted activist for healthcare transformation through participatory medicine and personal health data rights.

But as necessary as some kind of standard for medical apps might be, it’s unclear if Happtique has the clout and knowledge to build one from scratch. While many of the hospitals it works with are “name brands” in the health space, it’s a big leap to get from a name brand for doctors to helping an app stand out in a crowded app store and a crowded field. Happtique has found that there are 23,000 medical apps for iOS and Android devices alone.
Happtique will have to attract consumers and doctors to the standard while also convincing developers to pay for that seal of approval. Presumably it will seed some apps to the app store to give consumers a taste of what the seal means and help them trust it. That consumer demand might convince developers the certification is worth paying for. While Happtique is trying to do a useful thing, marketing isn’t just about offering utility, a fact that has doomed equally noble efforts. But as a confused customer who would rather get a doctor’s recommendation than some random tech blogger’s when it comes to medical apps, I hope this, or a similar effort wins out.