Wanted: a watchdog for the mobile medical app explosion

“A smartphone app that rids you of acne. Another that monitors your heart rate 24-7. One that detects skin cancer by looking at your birthmarks. If they sound too good to be true, they may be,” Christina Farr writes for Reuters. “Patients today use a number of apps that purport to track and treat a panoply of ailments, a headache for regulators and patient safety advocates. Now, the advent of wearable devices bristling with sophisticated biotracking sensors is stirring concern in the medical community about misdiagnoses that could have serious consequences for consumers.”

“Some are asking whether Apple and Google should do more to police their fast-growing app marketplaces,” Farr writes. “‘Most of the health apps out there are built by people with zero medical experience,’ said Paris Wallace, chief executive officer of Ovuline, a popular fertility app. Worse, many developers don’t have the resources for legal counsel, Wallace said, and are more likely to make false claims to patients without seeking FDA clearance.”

“The Food and Drug Administration last year published guidelines on the kinds of mobile apps it will supervise. But industry insiders fear the agency may get overwhelmed as apps mushroom,” Farr writes. “This week Apple introduced “Healthkit,” a repository of data for medical apps that opens up new realms for developers to explore. It may also make it easier for those with scant understanding of regulatory protocols to dive into the market… The iPhone maker is the preferred choice for developers. Analytics firm AppAnnie found that Apple generates five times more revenue from downloads of health and fitness apps than Google… One source familiar with the matter said Apple is looking to add a regulatory expert to its growing digital health team, who will be tasked with oversight of the App Store.”

“‘Research has shown that many existing medical apps may be useless. Seventy-five percent of smartphone apps that claim to assess malignancy are wrongly diagnosing at least 30 percent of melanomas as ‘unconcerning,’ researchers from the American Medical Association’s JAMA Dermatology found. A 2012 study by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that of 1,500 health apps it evaluated, 20 percent claimed to treat or cure medical problems, but only a small percentage of them had been clinically tested” Farr writes. Medical professionals fear patients may defer an in-person checkup because of faulty results. By the time they see a doctor it may be too late. A false negative for cancer, for instance, may prompt a user to put off professional consultation.”

Read more in the full article here.


  1. Are people REALLY so dumb as to think a check done by their PHONE APP is any kind of reliable reason to put off a visit to a dermatologist?

    In other news, asking friends or looking at photos on the Web may be useless.

    Last point – it is ludicrous to talk about cancer “diagnosing” apps and fitness tracking in the same article.

    1. I think this is a testament of how bad the so called Health Insurance and medical practitioners are that people prefer to use a risky app than visit a doctor.

      The insurance should be called a “Illness” Insurance as it does/did very little when one is healthy or assumes healthy.

      I for one would rather have more apps measuring and storing bio parameters that I will be able to share with a medical professional when I feel necessary. Right now the annual visit only takes into account a single test. I cannot wait for medical world to get some automation so maybe they can help us remain healthy and better care for people when they are not well.

      1. “…risky app than visit a doctor…” I recommend: Think less, act quicker, go visit a doctor when you feel it’s needed. After all, it’s really not about risky or good apps when ones judgement is the weakest link.

    2. “Are people REALLY so dumb as to think a check done by their PHONE APP is any kind of reliable reason”

      Worse, some even imbeciles that think taking a pill is the solution to [some of] their health problems.

      Regarding the watchdog, we need another watchdog for the medical [outrageous] rates explosion.

  2. I personally want more information. You get very little from the doctors and medical community and my experience last year with a serious medical condition with my wife leaves me with little faith that doctors can diagnose any better than a computer. While you would be stupid to rely only on the diagnosis made by your iPhone, you would also be stupid to ignore the information it is presenting and not discuss it with your doctor. The more information for the consumer of heath care – the better in my opinion. Health care is not an exact science, the consumer has to weigh all of the data themselves. Any tool to help with that is welcome in my opinion.

  3. all i want is an app that when I take selfie will make me look younger, fitter with more muscles, add hair in the right places and remove from others and generally make me look like a young brad Pitt — all with one click.

    to heck with all that exercise sh…

  4. Hehe, you don’t need an app for that, or, do you?

    Ok, I will give you an app, written in Swift-ly, named
    One click,

    code line 1: Stand before your mirror, look at your self(ie)
    code line 2: speak to mirror image: I am as god as it gets and not a day older.
    code line 3: look at your hair, or what’s left of it and say to your mirror image: I got what I got.
    code line 4: move your facial muscles at random and say, Brad Pitt who?
    code line 5: give a good smile to your mirror image and say: see you tomorrow.
    Motto: why lie to yourself negatively, when you can do it positively.
    Time spent daily: 1 minute.
    Prescription 1$/month, pays to http://sustainchildren.com/how-to-sponsor-a-child-unicef/

    Result guaranteed of course 😉

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