U.K. Health Service Takes Closer Look at Apps' Potential
The United Kingdom’s state healthcare provider, the National Health Service (NHS), has developed a safety screening protocol for free and paid-for apps patients can download to smartphones, computers, and tablets to manage health conditions like HIV and chronic diseases. Although NHS does not have any regulatory authority yet, the organization would like to move toward a formal accreditation process in the future.
At present, the NHS Choices Health Apps Library includes 90 health apps that have been reviewed by an NHS team of doctors, nurses, and information safety experts. The library provides a basic description, list of features, and user reviews for each of the NHS-approved apps, and links to online stores where the user may purchase the apps. Inderjit Singh, the library’s lead technical architect, stated that NHS approval is important because people do not know which apps to trust. Approximately 60,000 health-related apps have been developed to date, according to medical technology innovator Rock Health.
The US Food and Drug Administration and the European Commission also review health apps, but only if they function as “devices by carrying out calculations based on patient data and making treatment recommendations.” Many believe the lack of legal framework and enforcement allows unsafe apps to fall through the cracks. For example, the US Federal Trade Commission forced two mobile app developers to drop claims they could cure acne with the light emitted by a cellphone. A University of Pittsburgh study revealed apps claiming to identify cancerous moles varied from 6.8-percent to 98.1-percent accuracy.
Barriers to a health app accreditation system include guaranteeing the safety of information collected through the apps and deciding whether privately and government-funded health authorities will pay for apps. Some US insurers do pay for health apps used to manage chronic health conditions.
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