Ensuring safe medical apps

BMC Medicine 2015, 13:205

Authors: Paul Wicks and Emil Chiauzzi

Mobile health apps are health and wellness programs available on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. In three systematic assessments published in BMC Medicine, Huckvale and colleagues demonstrate that widely available health apps meant to help patients calculate their appropriate insulin dosage, educate themselves about asthma, or perform other important functions are methodologically weak. Insulin dose calculators lacked user input validation and made inappropriate dose recommendations, with a lack of documentation throughout. Since 2011, asthma apps have become more interactive, but have not improved in quality; peak flow calculators have the same issues as the insulin calculators. A review of the accredited National Health Service Health Apps Library found poor and inconsistent implementation of privacy and security, with 28 % of apps lacking a privacy policy and one even transmitting personally identifying data the policy claimed would be anonymous. Ensuring patient safety might require a new approach, whether that be a consumer education program at one extreme or government regulation at the other. App store owners could ensure transparency of algorithms (whiteboxing), data sharing, and data quality. While a proper balance must be struck between innovation and caution, patient safety must be paramount.

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