Hacking Medicine's consumer health app review site launches

By Jonah Comstock

Hacking Medicine Institute (HMi), a nonprofit organization that spun out of MIT last year, launched its health app review platform, called Ranked Health. The initiative is led by Dr. Maulik Majmudar, a cardiologist and associate director of the Healthcare Transformation Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Adam Landman, an emergency medicine physician and the chief medical information officer at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

“One of the major challenges facing the community is the inability to filter through the thousands of mobile medical applications in the app stores to identify safe, accurate and effective solutions," Majmudar said in a statement. "Patients and providers don’t have the necessary information to make an informed decision regarding the use of healthcare-focused mobile apps. They are looking for a credible source to provide summary information on these apps in an easy-to-understand format.”

The website is up now, and currently has reviews for 17 apps, ranging from insomnia app Sleepio ("Recommended" with a score of 85) to Quick BP Measure ("Not Recommended" with a score of 10). The score is created by a panel of reviewers ranking apps on effectiveness (which includes clinical relevance, credibility, and evidence-base), functionality, and usability. The reviewers are all MDs (with the exception of one PharmD) representing a range of backgrounds and specialties.

Click a review, and the site will take you to a list of questions users might have, answered by the reviewers, including "Is there any published evidence that the app actually works?" and "How is the app’s usability (look and feel; ease of use)?" The reviews also include information on regulatory clearance, privacy, and security.

As we reported when HMi launched its precursor to Ranked Health in December, the app ranking and curation space has a long history, including some high profile failures and false starts. One early attempt, Happtique, shut down its app certification program in December 2013 after a health IT firm exposed security issues with apps that had gotten certification from the company as being secure and fit for physicians to recommend to patients. Happtique was acquired in 2014 by SocialWellth, a company that has worked with Cigna on its GoYou platform, which also dabbled in app curation.

Over the years, we've seen other app curation efforts from Jiff and HealthTap as well as from big data company IMS Health, whose effort has been one of the most robust so far. But IMS's AppScript program is focused specifically on helping clinicians recommend apps to patients, whereas Ranked Health has a direct-to-consumer focus.

"The past few years bore witness to the rise and fall of several organizations with a shared goal of reviewing, rating or certifying mobile health applications," HMi wrote in a press release. "Recognizing that those efforts were hindered by trust, credibility and sustainability factors, the leadership team at Ranked Health is committed to making this review program an iterative and collaborative process. The initial set of reviews have been completed, and reviewers are actively seeking feedback and input from industry experts and end-users to ensure the program is aligned with market needs and sentiment."