Expanding World of Medical Apps – Quantity and Quality

This weekend the Washington Post carried an article that, among other things, focused on the explosion of apps available in healthcare. Entitled “Health-care Apps of Smartphones Pit FDA Against Tech Industry” the primary thrust of the article was as the title indicates.

Nearly a year ago in July 2011, FDA issued a draft guidance to outline an approach to the regulation of medical apps.  In my posting at the time, it seemed pretty clear that FDA intended to regulate those apps that made a pad or smart phone into a medical device – such as the one I use to take my blood pressure on my i-Pad, and would not focus on those apps that simply recorded and tracked information, such as something that would track my weight and body mass index, for example.   According to the article, there are some who feel that the wording of the draft guidance is vague.

But one of the more interesting things touched upon in the article is less the draft guidance than the sheet volume and rapid deployment of apps that support healthcare.  There are now approximately 13,000 apps available for consumers and another 5000 for physicians.  For the former this includes some that have been produced to help support patient monitoring for their conditions or to support medical decision making, while for the latter it takes on the form of turning a pad or a phone into a reader of x-Rays, for example.  The ability of apps to make the phone “smart” in healthcare is breathtaking, and growing at an astronomical rate.  That raises an interesting question….

With so much quantity, how does one measure quality?

Sure, when you go to get an app, you can view some of the reviews that people have written about the app and see how many stars it has been awarded, but when it comes to healthcare, perhaps something more is needed.  Maybe there is an opportunity for someone to create a clearinghouse for medical apps that provides both consumers and physicians with in-depth reviews written by notable experts rather than mini off-the-cuff reviews written by anyone.

There is no question that medical apps are going to play an increasing role in supporting both physicians and patients.  With so many thousands to sort through, it may be time for some patient groups and/or medical societies to see their way through to providing some insights into quality amongst so much quantity.

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