Doctor gets inside view to help make an mHealth app that works

Andis Robeznieks , Senior News Writer

In exploring how to contribute to digital health development, Manijeh Berenji, MD, found the AMA Physician Innovation Network was a great place to start.

Sometimes checking your email can lead to exciting new ventures. For Dr. Berenji it was an email telling her about the AMA Physician Innovation Network (PIN).

“I was interested in looking for startups and other companies who were interested in looking for clinical partners to test out new ideas, new innovations, new processes, new apps—anything that could potentially improve the patient experience and really make our jobs as clinicians easier,” she said.

That’s when Dr. Berenji, an occupational and environmental medicine specialist at Boston University Medical Center, received the PIN email and decided to investigate.

“I thought it was a very interesting interface, really in terms of connecting startups interested in health innovation and companies who are looking to develop collaborations with folks in the clinical space,” she said. “That’s how it started. It’s been a great experience so far.”

Dr. Berenji said the interactions on PIN have been a “two-way street,” on which she reached out to companies and others have approached her. This includes SaRA Health, a Kansas City, Missouri-based digital health company on whose advisory board she now serves.

SaRA works to help patients rehabilitate following occupational injuries, aiming to cut costs by shortening recovery times.

“On my profile, I expressed interest in sports medicine, physical therapy and rehabilitation medicine,” she recalled. “So there was natural synergy between my interests and theirs.”

Dr. Berenji said she’s been working with them to develop a mobile health app and platform that tracks patients’ progress and adherence with their physical therapy regimens.

The app will give patients access to specific exercise modules designed for them. The modules will include videos of the exercises, so patients can make sure they are doing them correctly. Patients would then document that they performed the exercises while SaRA therapists can fine-tune the regimen or identify any issues that may hinder the patients’ rehabilitation.

While the Sara IT staff can make the app and platform look aesthetically pleasing, Dr. Berenji provides the subject-matter expertise needed to develop clinically accurate content and her experience with patients gives her a feeling for what patients will actually use.

“I think the clinical perspective is vital,” Dr. Berenji said.

She added that that the digital health tool also must provide meaningful metrics that a physician or therapist would find useful in assessing a patient’s progress.

“I’ve seen a lot of articles in the health technology literature looking at the latest and greatest digital health app,” Dr. Berenji said. “I feel like a lot of these technologies, they may sound good in theory, but—when it comes to being able to put out reliable data—it doesn’t pan out. That’s because they haven’t thought out the specifics in terms of making sure that the information is actually good information that a clinician can use.”

For physicians interested in developing digital or mHealth tools, Dr. Berenji said serving as a clinical resource is professionally and personally rewarding and only requires a few hours a week.

“It’s given me a lot more knowledge that I wouldn’t have acquired on my own—and I got to meet some great people along the way,” she said.

Learn more about how AMA Physician Innovation Network connects health care innovation ecosystems to improve the development of emerging health care technology solutions.