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Surprising Science

Be Careful About Downloading Health Apps — They Lack Regulation

Health apps aren’t regulated by the medical industry and there’s little in the way of standardization, making them unreliable and a risky investment for some consumers.

Jesse Singal from NYMag reports that the mobile app market is an under-regulated mess. While the health market has boomed with step, heart rate, and various other personal wellness trackers, Singal warns that there’s no regulation, which means an app’s accuracy can vary from developer to developer. This lack of consistency or regulation standards among applications brings questions of reliability for users that may depend on sound readings.

The app “Instant Blood Pressure — Monitor Blood Pressure Using Only Your Phone” is of particular concern and has come under fire by Dr. Iltifat Husain, a director of the mobile app curriculum at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He says the app’s popularity is only one of many that pose a risk to uninformed consumers — with no evidence that it provides reliable feedback data. What’s more, Husain reports seeing some comments on the app’s page that indicate people are using it as a replacement for a traditional, standardized blood-pressure-measuring cuff.

When the app was first released to the marketplace, it didn’t even display a disclaimer. Since Wired and iMedicalApps have written on the product’s shady story, the developers have amended their disclosure section to read:

“It is not a medical device. It uses a patent-pending process created by a team of forward-thinking biomedical engineers and software developers. Measurements take less than 40 seconds and produce a systolic, diastolic, and heart rate measurement. At this time, results may vary for different users and some users may experience inaccurate measurements.

Please bear with us as we improve this exciting new technology.”

Not the most encouraging statement, especially for consumers that downloaded the app prior to this disclaimer.

The health and fitness market has continued to grow in the tech sphere, which has raised concerns about regulation. In a previous post, we reported on how fitness and wearable developers were upset by the fact that they’re not being taken seriously by medical experts, and with just reasons. The FDA refuses to regulate them, considering these devices and apps as “low-risk” — meant to assist people in personal pursuits of stress management and wellness. But Husain writes that something like keeping tabs on your blood pressure is a serious issue:

“Blood-pressure management is not for ‘recreational purposes.’ This is not entertainment. This is real life.”

Do you think app markets bear some of the responsibility? Or should developers be held responsible for releasing these apps without research to back up their reliability? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Read more about the issues of fly-by-night health apps at NYMag and iMedicalApps.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


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