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June 4, 2019

Johns Hopkins Team Develops Digital Health Roadmap

Despite the common wisdom that more is always better, when it comes to finding reliable health information in the digital age, that adage has mostly led to a crowded, unregulated and confusing place.

Looking to alleviate some of that perplexity, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health has developed a roadmap to guide the industry forward.

Investment in the digital health sector is robust and growing and, if mobile applications alone are an indicator, the market is flooded. There are more than 3 million health apps, with more than 200 launching daily, but there’s little way to “identify validated digital health solutions,” according to “Digital Health; a Path to Validation,” published recently in the Nature Research Journal npj Digital Medicine. APL staff members Michael McShea, Casey Hanley, Alan Ravitz and Adam Cohen join JHU’s Simon C. Mathews, the lead author, and Alain B. Labrique as coauthors.

The writers investigate not only the current market — highlighting that there is little rigorous study to determine the clinical effectiveness of today’s digital health apps — but also how to navigate from the untended brush of the current landscape toward more manicured pastures.

The framework proposed by the researchers, a Digital Health Scorecard, addresses existing limitations with eyes on future implementation.

“Health care is in need of a strong, transparent corroboration process for digital health products,” said Ravitz, the chief engineer in APL’s National Health Mission Area. “Health care providers and patients are unable to realize the full value of these technologies given today’s current state. Having a system where quality and value are easier to distinguish will benefit all parties.”

The scorecard would offer ratings on technical and clinical strengths as well as usability and cost. The researchers see it as a merger of the user-focused Consumer Reports with the safety elements of UL (formerly Underwriters Laboratory) into a system that “defines requirements and standards for digital health products, transparently discloses them, and objectively evaluates and reports to the industry and the public.”

The team is working toward a small but detailed pilot study and pursuing various paths toward establishing the scorecard.

Media contact: Paulette Campbell, 240-228-6792, Paulette.Campbell@jhuapl.edu

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.