Introducing the Pitch Day Finalists: Rapid Evaluation of Apps

Oct 3, 2013, 8:00 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Bianca Frogner, health economist and assistant professor at George Washington University

Bianca Frogner, PhD, has a vision for a rigorous evaluation system that allows patients and providers to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the over 40,000 medical and health apps on the market. She was one of eight finalists we invited to pitch ideas live and in person at the first-ever Pioneer Pitch Day. 

Dr. Frogner is a health economist and an assistant professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services. You can connect with her on Twitter at @biancafrogner.

Pioneer: Congratulations on being a Pitch Day finalist! How did you hear about Pioneer Pitch Day?

Bianca Frogner: I heard about Pioneer Pitch Day from a fellow innovator, global health activist, and lover of the arts, Myra Donnelley of Eniware, LLC. I met Myra at a happy hour event for XX in Health Week, which is an organization that brings together leading ladies in the health tech and entrepreneurship space. As I was sharing my reasons for being at the event as an academic, Myra pointed out that I might have some interesting ideas and perspective on how to transform the health care system, and recommended that I pitch them to RWJF.

Pioneer: What made you decide to submit your idea to Pioneer Pitch Day?

Frogner: When I first heard of RWJF’s Pioneer Pitch Day, I did not immediately think that the event fit a researcher like me. But in reflecting on many past conversations, I realized that I may in fact have the entrepreneurial spirit in my genes and that I am well positioned to take on the challenges facing the health care system. So I took to brainstorming how I could best leverage my skill set and began writing down solutions to a few of the health care challenges that I have long lamented.

Pioneer: Tell us about the origins of your idea for rapid evaluation of health apps.

Frogner: Since becoming a health economist over five years ago, I have noticed a high demand for doing evaluative work such as cost-effectiveness analysis, but a low supply of available experts to whom I could pass along the work. The requests are coming in at an increasing rate as apps proliferate. I paused to consider why more people weren’t available to do the work. Then it hit me that given my colleagues’ incentives, the payoff is not clear, since the technology (and findings) may be obsolete or may have evolved by the time one raises funds to do the work, collects and analyzes the data, and publishes the work.

Pioneer: What do you believe is the most innovative aspect of your idea?

Frogner: I believe the most innovative aspect of my idea is the marriage between dichotomies: 1) rigorous evaluation that is usually time consuming and 2) rapidly changing technology that moves forward based on quick-and-dirty results. In the last few years, I have been amazed at the advances in big data, data processing and machine learning with the capability to provide the data we need for analysis in real time and even perform the analysis. But new evaluation tools have not kept up with the times. I believe it is time for someone (me!) to create the next generation of evaluation tools to meet fast-changing times.

Pioneer: Who is an innovative thinker who has inspired your own work – why and how?

Frogner: My biggest inspiration and the person who has most influenced my work is my father, Bjorn Frogner, a researcher-turned-Silicon-Valley-entrepreneur and now Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. For as long as I can remember he has been innovating… he asks the question “why not,” and always focuses on the possibilities and opportunities. When faced with obstacles, he pushes through and comes out stronger and more determined. He is the best mentor I have had in many different facets of my life. He has taught me how to believe in my ideas despite naysayers, and inspires me to see my ideas to fruition.

Proposal Submission: Rapid Evaluation of Apps

Approximately 40,000 medical and health apps are available on the market and the number is on the rise. Identifying the “most effective” health app by rigorous evaluation methods is a challenge because a good health outcome is nebulous to define, the technological environment is changing rapidly, the pool of talented evaluators is small, and funding levels are low relative to the number of available apps. But the goal may become critical as medical providers want move towards prescribing apps the way they would prescribe a pill, and insurers reimburse for such services. My vision is to develop a rapid evaluation system that establishes standard metrics, and integrates expert and user experience, download statistics, rate of return measures, and spatial search patterns. The evaluation system will combine tools from economics and engineering. The evaluation system will be designed to integrate into electronic health record systems, and used by medical providers and insurers to identify the “most effective” health app.

Got a pioneering idea of your own? We'd love to hear from you.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.