When Foundation-Approved Apps Founder

[This post was first published on The Health Care Blog on 9/6/13. Dr. Mike Painter of RWJF was kind enough to post a thoughtful response in the comments section there.]

What does it mean when an app wins a major foundation’s developer challenge, and then isn’t updated for two and a half years?

Today, as I was doing a little background research on task management apps for caregivers, I came across a 2012 post listing Pain Care as a handy app for caregivers.
Pain is certainly something that comes up a lot when it comes to geriatrics and supporting caregivers, so I decided to learn a little more about this app.
“The Pain Care app won the “Project HealthDesign” challenge by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and California HealthCare Foundation,” reads the descriptive text in the Google Play Store. 
Well well well! RWJF and CHCF are big respectable players in my world, so I was impressed.
But then as I looked at the user reviews, I noticed something odd. Namely, that the most recent one seems to be from April 2012, which is like 2-3 generations ago when it comes to apps.
And furthermore, the app itself was last updated in February 2011. This is like a lifetime ago when it comes to apps. 
I decided to download the app and give it a whirl. It’s ok. Seems to be an app for journaling and documenting pain episodes, along with associated triggers. Really looks like something developed by doctors: one of the options for describing the type of pain is “lancinating,” and in a list of “side-effects” (side effects of what? the pain medication one may have just taken?) there is the option to check “sexual dysfunction.” Or you could check “Difficulty with breathing.” (In case you just overdosed on your opiates, perhaps.)
The app does connect to a browser-based account where I was able to view a summary of the pain episode I’d documented. It looked like something that one should print and give to a doctor, and in truth, it would probably be helpful.
Setting snarky comments about the vocabulary aside: this app actually looks like a good start for a pain journal. But it needs improvement and refining, in order to improve usability and quality. Also, although I don’t know much about app development and maintenance, I assume that apps should be periodically upgraded to maintain good performance as the operating systems of iPhones and Android phones evolve.
What does it mean, that this app was blessed by RWJF but then has been left to founder? A quick look at the developer’s news feed reveals that the app maker, Ringful Health, has racked up an impressive array of research contracts and prestigious partnerships: NIH, CMS, Consumer Reports.
Will these alliances lead to more lasting (read: supported and improved in an ongoing fashion) products and apps that can benefit patients and caregivers? What is the measure of a successful app, from the perspective of public health authorities, and of foundations?
Clearly, this is partly about issues related to business case and funding. To maintain an app, you need money. (If you get money from active users, then you definitely need to work on keeping them happy.)
Who will pay to maintain the apps that foundations, government agencies, and public-interest agencies help start?
And what does happen to most of these apps and tech projects that win foundation awards? Would be interesting to learn more about the natural history of such apps…

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