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Setting higher standards for digital health technologies


Gastroenterologist Simon C. Mathews, MD, sees himself as a disciple of patient safety and quality improvement.

“It’s influenced the way I see medicine and the work that I do around identifying quality, not in the conventional context in a hospital or a clinic, but applying that lens to the world of technology,” said Dr. Mathews, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.

Bringing greater visibility to digital health technologies is part of his life’s work.

Dr. Simon J. Mathews, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore

Dr. Simon C. Mathews

“There is now an expectation that high quality must be part of the development process of these new technologies,” said Dr. Mathews.

In particular, he’d like to see noninvasive diagnostic technologies in the gastroenterology world become more patient-centric.

Bringing somebody into the hospital is often inconvenient and disruptive. The field is heading toward technologies that can be used in the home or in an outpatient setting. “I have some research in that area, and I’d love to see it ultimately reach the patient at the bedside, if possible.”

Dr. Mathews is a member of the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology and a previous mentee in the Future Leaders Program.

In an interview, Dr. Mathews discussed his push to validate health technologies in the GI field and to make them more transparent to physicians and patients.

Question: Why did you choose GI?

Answer: I think the world of gastroenterology offers a tremendous amount of diversity in the way we manage and treat patients. There’s a huge spectrum of disease. There’s also the procedural aspect, which is very different from a lot of other medical specialties. For me particularly, there’s the opportunity to work on technology as it relates to GI, as well as research in that space.

Q: It seems like gastroenterology involves a lot of detective work. Would you say that’s true?

A: When you think of something like abdominal pain or GI symptoms, any place in the body can cause those symptoms to be present. You have to think broadly about all of the contributing factors, the whole patient as it relates to travel, pets, exposures, food, diet. You really can’t be myopic when you think about all the potential causes.

The name of the game is to provide answers whenever possible, but I will settle for getting someone feeling better, even if we don’t have the answer etched in stone.

Q: What gives you the most joy in your day-to-day practice?

A: I work in an academic institution at Johns Hopkins. I really enjoy the direct connection with patients. I’ve switched mostly to a hospital-based practice, which means I’m getting patients at their sickest. It’s really a privilege to provide an opportunity for improvement or support in that context. I also enjoy the teaching and training of the next generation of folks that are going into this field. There’s so much to learn, and I think trying to set that example and teach by doing is a great opportunity, and I really enjoy that as well.

Q: Describe your biggest practice-related challenge and what you’re doing to address it.A: One of my focus areas on the research front is about providing greater transparency and validation around health technologies. How do patients know which health technologies to use? How do doctors know which ones to recommend or advocate for?

Q: Can you give an example of a technology of concern?

A: Looking at oncology and mobile apps, one study I coauthored in 2021 found that well over half did not meet physician or patient expectations. These were the most popular and highest rated apps available at the time. It shows that there’s a real disconnect between what the end users – the doctors and the patients – want from these solutions and what’s actually being provided.


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