Many of us are absolutely obsessed with apps for our smartphones and tablets.
Tens of millions are downloaded every day and some experts project more than 50 billion app downloads in 2013.
While most of us use apps for entertainment or exercise, some health apps serve a much more serious purpose.
Now the question is how should they be regulated?
There’s an app to spot ear infections, an app that turns your phone into a mobile heart monitor and an app in the works that helps detect tumors.
More and more doctors are using their smartphones and tablets as tools to help patients.
Anesthesiologist Doctor Brian Rothman can observe up to four operating rooms at once with Vigivu.
The app, he helped create, allows him to keep track of patients' medication, vital signs, and get notifications if those vitals go out of range.
"We have such a demand to be everywhere for our patients,” explained Rothman. “It brings information to me."
But some question the safety and privacy of health apps.
Clinical consultant Debbie Gregory specializes in technology planning for hospitals. She has some concerns.
"How are we going to regulate these? Who's going to be regulated?," asks Debbi Gregory with Smith Seckman Reid, Inc.
Three days of hearings were recently held to debate what medical apps should be regulated.
“While many mobile apps carry minimal risks, others can pose significant risks to patients if they don't operate correctly,” Gregory added.
The agency proposed regulating a small subset of health apps that turn mobile devices into medical devices.
For example, an app that allows smartphones to take a diabetic's blood glucose reading may have to get approval.
But apps considered low-risk, like those containing general medical information will not be regulated.
Doctor Rothman and Gregory agree the new proposed rules are a step in the right direction as the health app trend continues to grow.
"It's really transforming healthcare as we see it today," added Gregory.
The FDA plans to put the new health app regulations in place by October 1.
After that, officials say they will put a list of approved health apps on the agency's website.
HEALTH APPS: THE REGULATION CONVERSATION
THEN AND NOW: Remember when your doctor would say, "take two of these and call me in the morning?" That was then, now it's "download this app and text me later." Development of mobile medical applications is opening new and innovative ways for technology to improve health and health care. Some doctors are beginning to prescribe smart-phone applications and medical devices they work with to help patients manage chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. And your insurance might even pay for it as well. (SOURCE: http://www.dispatch.com; http://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices)
MOBILE HEALTH: Consumers use mobile medical applications to manage their own health and wellness. Health care professionals are using these applications to improve and facilitate patient care. These applications include a wide range of functions from allowing individuals to monitor their calorie intake for healthy weight maintenance, to allowing doctors to view a patient's X-rays on their mobile communications device. Simple apps that help people with their fitness or remind them to take their pill prescriptions already are widely popular. But new device applications are taking mobile health - or mHealth as practitioners are calling it - to a new level. Some health apps that are widely becoming popular among doctors and patients are:
* OnTrack Diabetes: OnTrack is a free application that helps diabetics manage their diabetes by tracking various items such as blood glucose, food, medication, blood pressure (BP), pulse, exercise and weight.
* iHealth Blood Pressure Monitor: Has a cuff that connects to the phone helping you monitor your blood pressure.
* SmartHeart: Works with a heart monitor harness that wirelessly transmits information to the phone.
The data gathered by these apps is analyzed, displayed and can be shared with physicians. And most of the apps even will suggest behavioral changes to improve test results. (SOURCE: http://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices; http://www.dispatch.com; https://play.google.com/store/apps)
FDA MOBILE APP REGULATION: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to regulate medical devices connected to smartphones, but consumer devices such as the iPhone and app stores like iTunes and Google Drive will remain clear of oversight. Mobile apps that measure patients' vital signs or control devices such as CT scanners will be regulated, but mobile apps that provide access to electronic health records (EHRs) will be free of regulation. So far, the government agency has cleared more than 75 medical apps - many for doctors' use only. Many of the apps are free, but the devices can cost anywhere from $50 to $500. Insurance providers are starting to cover some of those costs. For a listing of FDA currently regulated devices go to http://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/deviceregulationandguidance/ (SOURCE: www.eweek.com; http://www.dispatch.com)
? For More Information, Contact:
Craig Boerner, Media Director
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Debbie Gregory RN, BSN
Free weekly e-mail on Medical Breakthroughs from Ivanhoe. To sign up: http://www.ivanhoe.com/ftk
HEALTH APPS: THE REGULATION CONVERSATION (SHORT)
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