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Legal Experts Call For More Regulation Of Mobile Health Apps

smartphone (Stephan Geyer/Flickr)

(Stephan Geyer/Flickr)

Veronica Thomas
CommonHealth Intern

Want to hypnotize yourself thin? There’s an app for that. Want to monitor your heart rate without buying another gadget? There’s an app for that too. With the emergence of countless mobile health applications, smartphones are quickly transforming health care at our fingertips.

Mobile health—“mHealth”—apps have the potential to help promote healthy behaviors, expand health care access, and manage costs. But in order to protect the safety of consumers, health law experts say there needs to be more regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.

According to the new report, just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, only about 100 out of 100,000 mHealth apps available on the market have been FDA-approved.

Many mobile health developers, however, worry that FDA oversight will hinder creativity and growth. The FDA approval process can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take months or even years to complete. Before committing time and money to FDA endorsement, many developers first look to consumers for a stamp of approval.

From the study’s press release:

“Consumers will be spending a lot of money on these products, and venture capital is flying into the industry,” says the article’s lead author, SMU Dedman School of Law Associate Dean of Research Nathan Cortez, adding that by 2017 mHealth apps are expected earn $26 billion— up from $2.4 billion in 2013.

The FDA needs “additional funding and in-house technical expertise to oversee the ongoing flood of mHealth products,” the authors note. An under-regulated mobile health industry could create “a Wild West” market, says Cortez, who has conducted extensive research into FDA regulation of mobile health technologies.

While consumers might trust that iTunes and Android would only sell legitimate health apps cleared by the FDA, that just typically isn’t the case, Cortez says. Continue reading