Another mHealth App Bites the Dust

APRIL 16, 2015
Many health care professionals use mobile health (mHealth) apps in their daily practice to augment clinical knowledge with easily accessible information. Beyond these clinical information apps, patients are increasingly being encouraged to use their mobile devices and associated health trackers to engage them in their own health and well-being.
Health-related apps geared toward consumers cover a wide spectrum, from tracking exercise and fitness, to managing dietary habits, to receiving medical advice and online consultations.
One area that has garnered a significant amount of concern from health care professionals and certain federal agencies is apps purporting to diagnose or supply patients and consumers with medical information that may contain questionable content.
Lately, the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) has been cracking down on mHealth apps claiming to identify skin lesions for melanoma risk. Two of these apps garnered attention from the FTC at the start of 2015, and just this month, one was barred and will need to pay $17,963.
This is not the first time the FTC has flexed its muscles in ordering mobile app developers to stop what they are doing. Back in 2011, the FTC had one company drop claims that its app could cure acne. The idea of holding your phone up to your face to help cure acne sounds appealing, but the science behind it is rather questionable. Needless to say, the FTC wanted the developers to drop the claim, especially since there were more than 3000 downloads.
The FDA also entered in the realm of mHealth apps and crafted a set of guidelines for developers. However, even the FDA acknowledges it cannot review every app coming to market. In addition, Apple and Google have not been transparent with the public about their review process for medical apps. The fact that questionable apps make it to market and need to identified by federal agencies points to a potentially lax review process.

Concern then lies with patient use of mobile devices and apps, as well as the ability to identify apps of questionable nature. It would be fascinating if federal agencies implemented a form for patients and providers to report apps, similar to adverse drug events.

Currently, there is no documented case of a patient being harmed directly from the use of an mHealth app. Time will tell, however, especially as patients increasingly turn to easily accessible devices for health advice.

Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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