Private app stores could be Next Big Thing

By Neil Versel

Neil VerselOne of the most intriguing ideas to come out of last week's Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco is the private, curated mobile app store for healthcare. I'm thinking this could be the Next Big Thing in mobile health.

If you read MobiHealthNews last week, you know that Happtique, a provider of private, white-labeled app stores for healthcare professionals, is testing its curated model with 11 provider organizations, mostly in and around New York City.

New York-based Happtique, which, according to CTO Paul Nerger, stands for "Healthcare App Boutique," employs a team of curators—including a physician, a nurse and a medical librarian—to sort through the thousands of medical and health apps available in what Nerger called the "Apple Crap Store" because the health section isn't exactly relevant to clinicians.

Apple did create a section of iTunes for healthcare professionals last month, but it's a small collection that's limited to customers in the U.S. and Canada. One of the 11 Happtique beta sites is in the U.K.

Happtique organizes apps according to its customers' preferences. "You can deploy the apps the way you want, when you want. Apple doesn't have to see it," Nerger said at the conference. Health systems can add custom-designed apps, too, that don't have to get Apple's approval for inclusion in the public iTunes as long as the organization has an Apple enterprise certificate.

As we reported last week, Happtique has an Android app collection in the works, an important consideration because the Android Market is much more wide open to developers—and susceptible to junk—than iTunes. Happtique also is looking at developing app lists for BlackBerry and Windows Phone.

Clearly, Health 2.0 wasn't the only place people were talking about private app stores. Just one day after Nerger's presentation and on the other side of the country, Department of Veterans Affairs CIO Roger Baker said he would like to have a dedicated app store "to aid the entire VA enterprise," according to a Nextgov story.

Baker, speaking at a Washington press conference, said that Veterans Health Administration clinicians pushed the department to open its vast IT networks to smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. While Nextgov reported that Baker would like the app store extended beyond care providers to the Veterans Benefits Administration, it's clear that healthcare professionals are driving this.

Judging from the excitement in the room after Happtique's presentation, there seems to be plenty of demand for app curation in healthcare. Sure, there was a lot of undeserved hype at Health 2.0, but this was a session about interactive technologies in the hospital setting, attended by quite a few people who actually practice medicine or support physicians, not just some dreamers chasing venture capital.

As Nerger so inelegantly but honestly put it, there is a lot of "crap" out there among the thousands of smartphone and tablet apps, and clinicians don't want to wade through the muck to find useful tools. I fully expect them to flock to curated, private collections.

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