Mobile healthcare applications – or “apps” – are having an increasingly profound impact on medicine; it is estimated that within 5 years, 50% of mobile device users will have downloaded healthcare apps. With drastic improvements in technology in the last few years, mobile medical apps now range from drug databases to sophisticated monitors that can measure blood pressure, heart rate and asthma symptoms.
In a podcast featured in Biome magazine and a forum article in BMC Medicine, cardiologist Eric Topol discusses the huge potential of mobile healthcare apps, describing how the smartphone can function as a “lab on a chip”, and can test for kidney and thyroid function, as well as levels of potassium in the blood. Topol explains that:
“The smartphone will become the hub of future medicine, because it has a pluripotent impact”
Should mobile healthcare apps be regulated?
While recent years have seen enormous progress in mobile health technology, an emerging question is how these apps should be regulated. The US FDA has recently released a statement saying that they do not need to oversee “low risk” healthcare apps such as fitness monitors, but those doing the job of a medical device, such as apps that control the delivery of insulin, require regulation to ensure they do not pose a safety risk for patients.
Alison Holmes and colleagues from Imperial College London discuss the issue of healthcare app regulation in a commentary article, concluding that robust governance frameworks are needed to encourage innovation while evaluating potential safety concerns. Topol affirms that:
“I think it is vital that we have an independent agency, a regulatory body that can assure that the things being measured are being done so in a highly rigorous, accurate way”
Can mobile healthcare encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle?
Keeping people engaged with living a healthier lifestyle is key to preventing the development of chronic conditions, and mobile apps have great potential to incentivize healthy behavior. An important question, which was addressed at the recent Health 2.0 Europe conference, is how to keep people engaged with healthcare apps. As discussed in our blog post, many people’s enthusiasm for healthcare apps dwindles over time, and apps should be designed to keep people engaged while collecting data passively.
Topol explains that it remains to be seen whether or not mobile health will indeed push people to live a healthier lifestyle, but emphasized that having access to a wealth of information about their own health should empower patients, incentivize healthy behavior and, ultimately, reduce the number of visits to the doctor.
You can listen to our discussion with Eric Topol as part of our podcast on Personalized medicine: risk prediction, targeted therapies and mobile health technology here, and read about the impact of mobile health technology on medicine in our forum article.