Need a Doctor? There’s An App for That

Posted By Laura Crestohl – Feb. 6, 2014

For many, access to easy and affordable health care is difficult. As a result, patients have been turning towards mobile applications to address their medical needs. With over 40,000 health apps available, if you need a health-related question answered, or your blood sugar level checked, there’s an app for that!

Health apps can help individuals manage their own health and wellness, and could allow doctors to quickly diagnose patients outside of the traditional health care settings. Allied Health Worldfound that health apps allowed twice as many rural patients to be reached by a doctor, reduced data collection costs by 24% and reduced health care costs for seniors by 25%. The market for health apps is increasing exponentially, and is estimated to reach $11.8 billion by 2018. The Government of Canada has even released its own apps, to help disseminate information about product recalls and safety alerts, as well as an app to help Canadians stop smoking.

However, policymakers are starting to worry about the effects these apps might have on public health, and what harms might come from unregulated health apps. In September 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided that it would begin regulating health apps that performed functions akin to medical devices. These could include apps that monitor heart rates, or that attach into a phone like arm cuffs that measure blood pressure. The FDA claims that it will “apply the same risk-based approach the agency uses to assure safety and effectiveness for other medical devices” when approving health apps. Yet, apps that simply provide information or help users self-manage their conditions will only be handled with “enforcement discretion”. The director of the FDA’s medical device division told journalists that how the agency regulates these types of apps will depend on the app’s function and its risk.

Canadians are also increasingly using mobile apps to help them manage their health issues. Almost half of Canadians believe that mobile health apps will make health care more convenient, according to a new study by PwC that polled over 2,000 individuals. As well, 2/3 of Canadians would consider using virtual health care options, in the hopes of getting easy access to a physician, obtaining more information and gaining greater control over one’s health. Will Falk, Manager Partner of Healthcare at PwC says: “There needs to be a balance between securing access and modernization with quality and privacy”. As health care goes online, how do we find the balance between the demand for these products with the need for regulation? There’s no app for that.

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