AMA CEO Calls Digital Products Modern-Day ‘Snake Oil’

Greg Slabodkin | Health Data Management | June 13, 2016

When it comes to electronic health record technology, the American Medical Association has been an outspoken critic about what it perceives as the shortcomings of EHRs, voicing the widespread dissatisfaction of the doctors who use the systems. However, the nation’s largest physician group is now taking aim at new and emerging health IT technologies—such as mobile healthcare apps—that it believes are leading to practice disruption. In a June 11 address to AMA’s House of Delegates at its annual meeting in Chicago, CEO James Madara, MD, blasted the current technological landscape, calling it a “digital dystopia” that has generated tools that lack the medical evidence necessary to demonstrate the efficacy of the technology.

“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,” said Madara. “Even those digital products that might be helpful often lack a way of enriching the relationship between the physician and the patient. It’s like trying to squeeze a 10-gallon product idea into a 2-gallon healthcare knowledge base.” While mHealth apps and wearable sensors for diagnosing, tracking and treating diseases such as chronic conditions are growing in popularity among consumers, Madara is concerned this technology could lead to harm or even death. And, despite the promise of mobile technology for improving patient outcomes, he says there are a scarcity of clinical trial data and lack of evidence justifying its use.

Supporting Madara’s claims is an analysis of about 1,000 patient-facing health apps targeted at individuals with chronic illnesses. The study, funded by The Commonwealth Fund and published in February, found that only 43 percent of iOS apps and 27 percent of Android apps were in fact useful. Without mentioning anyone by name, Madara took a swipe at Eric Topol, MD, chief academic officer of San Diego’s Scripps Health and author of two recent books—The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare, and The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands—for fueling the hype around mHealth...