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Apple App Store Toughens Guidelines For Health Apps

Posted on September 13, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

In a precedent-setting move, Apple has released new guidelines for its iOS App Store which impose new limitations on health and medical app developers.  iMedicalApps contributor Iltifat Husain, M.D., who wrote a piece about the changed standards, said they contain “the most stringent language I have ever seen Apple used for the health and medical category of apps.”

According to Husain, highlights from Apple’s new developer guidelines include:

  • A warning that if an app could possibly cause physical harm, Apple could reject it
  • A warning that apps which provide inaccurate data or information that could be used to diagnose or treat patients will get increased scrutiny
  • A reminder that apps which calculate drug dosage must come from the drug manufacturer, a hospital, university, health insurance company or other approved entity. In other words, independent developers cannot post a medical app for drug dosages themselves.
  • A ban on marijuana-related apps
  • A ban on apps that encourage people to place their iPhones under a mattress or pillow while charging (such as some sleep monitors)

Historically, Apple has been relatively lax about hosting potentially dangerous health apps, Husain says. For example, he notes that apps purporting to measure a consumer’s blood pressure by using the iPhone’s camera and microphone tend to be quite inaccurate in their measurements, but that Apple had not screened them out.  Now things have changed for the better, Husain writes. “Apps [like these] would not get through the screening review process under Apple’s new guidelines.”

Husain argues that the new guidelines are more important than the FDA’s recently-updated guidelines on health apps: “There is no way the FDA can regulate the hundreds of thousands of health and medical apps and the updates made to them,” Husain writes. “The screening process is what has to change.” And given Apple’s market footprint and influencer status it’s hard to disagree with him.

At this point the question is whether Google will follow suit. After all, while the Apple app store hosted 2 million apps as of June, Google Play offered 2.2 million apps, according to one study, and as of February there were three Android users for every iPhone user. So If Google doesn’t put more stringent health app requirements in place as well, creators of dodgy health apps can still develop for Android and find a wide audience.

That being said, neither Google nor Apple are required to impose new restrictions on health apps, and are likely to be governed by commercial pressure more than medical appropriateness. Also, both parties are free to set any rules they choose, and uses might not be aware of important differences between the two sets of policies. In other words, if the goal is to protect consumers, relying on guidelines generated by app store hosts probably won’t fly over the long-term.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that the FDA or other regulatory body should come down on the app stores like a ton of bricks. That would be overkill, and as Husain notes, is probably beyond their capabilities.

But doctors in the know about apps might want to warn patients about their potential limitations, and offer some criteria as to what they can expect from health apps. After all, most consumers have experimented with one health app of the other, so even if the doctor doesn’t prescribe them, patients need to be educated about their options. So if you’re a mobile health savvy clinician reading this, consider increasing patients on these issues.

Five Essential Apps for Medical Emergencies

Posted on December 6, 2012 I Written By

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.

I’ve come to learn that you must always expect the unexpected. It’s easy to see natural disasters happen to people across the world, or hear about tragic accidents, and think, “Well, that would never happen to me!” Believe me, I think that all the time. Unfortunately, emergency situations inevitably happen to everyone. And when those situations come up, it’s better to be safe, than sorry. There’s a lot of apps out there that have been designed to make emergencies a little more bearable, and some are specifically for health-related emergencies. Here’s five apps I think everyone should have on their smart phone — just in case.

1) Alert.MDThis app was created to make sure medical professionals can access information quickly and efficiently during an emergency situation, and to ensure family members are notified as well. Basically, after you register for a free account, you are giving a ID number that you superimpose onto the screen saver or background of your mobile device (the function to do this is in the app.) In an emergency, a medical provider can search the number on Alert.MD and immediately have access to the individual’s emergency contact info, allergies, medications, and known medical conditions. One of the reviews I read said, “I don’t know if I would be here right now if I had not downloaded it!” And others expressed similar sentiments.

Available for free iOS devices; register account for free at Alert.MD

2) First Aid by American Red CrossIt’s not hard to find a first aid app — there’s tons of them. However, not all are created equally, and I think this one created by the American Red Cross is one of the best. It features step-by-step guides for a variety of different first aid scenarios and the ability to call 911 from the app. Not only does it provide information in emergency situations, but it has education for people wanting to learn first aid, in the form of quizzes and videos. The information can be accessed without a wireless internet connection. It is a very clean, user-friendly app, that I think just about anyone could benefit from having. Just as a side note, the American Red Cross also has recently released apps that deal with natural disasters that seem to be pretty handy, all of which can be accessed from the link above.

Available for free on both Android and iOS devices.

3) iTriage Health: The description for this app says it answers two questions — “what medical condition could I have,” and “where should I go for treatment.” It has a doctor search, to help you find a doctor or facility that can best treat your symptoms, as well as find hte nearest ER, urgent care, mental health clinic, and more. Average wait times for local emergency rooms are also available. The database helps users to determine whether or not they need to go to the ER, and what course of action they should take. There are a whole bunch of other features which make this kind of an all-in-one emergency app — I meant, it has almost 5 stars and over 50,000 reviews, it must be doing something right!

Available for free on both Android and iOS devices

4) smart-ICE4FamilyThis is an interesting twist on the typical emergency information card. The owner of the phone can pre-record a message that plays off information for anyone that presses it. It has places to enter medical information, difficulties, and even “expressed wishes.” There is room for up to 8 people in the app, so a parent (or caregiver) can have all the information they need concerning the health of those in their family or that they care for. One interesting feature is the alert function. When it is pressed, emergency services are called, and a siren goes off. This could be helpful if someone is home alone and has either fallen, had a heart attack, or feel they can’t get to a place that EMTs could find them easily. It also has a “my location” button, which makes it easy to give information to a dispatcher, which would be helpful if someone is an an unfamiliar place.

Available for iOS devices for 2.99.

5) !Emergency!: What happens if you are visiting another country, and an emergency happens? Not every country uses 911 like America, and this app helps solve that problem. It’s simple enough, but basically just provides the emergency contact numbers for countries around the world, as well as helps the user locate hospitals and emergency rooms. It automatically detects which country the user is in, and suggests the correct phone number to call. Obviously, not everyone is going to get a use out of this, but for those that travel, it’s almost a necessity.

Available for iOS devices for .99

Care4Today Reminds Patients to Take Medications, Fill Prescriptions, and To Take Control of Health Care Situation

Posted on August 2, 2012 I Written By

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.

An app designed to help patients remember important medical events was recently released for the iPhone. Care4Today, created by Janssen Research & Development, lets its users set up alerts to fill medications, doctor’s appointments, and reminders to take medication. In addition, it allows for easy storage of contact information and passwords.

This app is secure, so users can rest at peace, knowing that their information won’t be accessed by unauthorized people.

One feature I liked was the medication log. It keeps track of when you last took a medication. While it does take a little bit of effort to input that information, it would be helpful for those willing to do that. I know that I’ve forgotten many times when, and even if, I took some a medication or vitamin, and I ended up skipping it because I didn’t want to overdose. For the forgetful type, this is the perfect feature.

Dr. Diego Miralles, head of Janssen Healthcare Innovation, talked about why Care4Today was created:

The Care4Today Mobile Adherence platform can help overcome the number one barrier to consumers taking their medications by providing customized reminders delivered via secure messagiing directly to their cell phone, a device that most people carry with them at all times.

This doesn’t seem to be a new idea — setting up reminders for important events. Whenever I set up an appointment for the doctor, I immediately enter it into my calendar that is on the home page of my phone. I’m not sure if it would prove to be more efficient just to keep doing that, or to actual enter that information into this app. Maybe I’m not understanding the app correctly, but I think I’ll stick with my calendar for keeping track of appointments.

Overall, I think this app would be most helpful for reminders on refilling medications and to take medications. It would be cool if a feature could be added, that, after you receive an alert for a refill, you could select for a message to be sent to your pharmacy of choice with a request to have the medication prepared for you to pick up at a certain time. Not sure how feasible that would be, but it sure would be easier than calling, or just showing up at the pharmacy and hoping there wasn’t a wait (who am I kidding — there is always a wait!)

This app is free though and available for Android and the iPhone.

AMA Launches CPT Billing Code iPhone App and 2011 AMA App Challenge

Posted on March 29, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today the American Medical Association (AMA) introduced it’s first ever iPhone app designed for physicians. I’ts a CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) billing code app which helps you quickly find the right CPT code. You can get the app for free on the iTunes store CPT E/M QuickRef - American Medical Association and is called the CPT E/M QuickRef app. Unfortunately, right now it seems it’s only available for the iPhone. I think it’s a really smart move for an association like AMA to release an app like this.

Together with the launch of the first AMA iPhone app, the AMA also announced a medical APP Challenge for medical students, residents and physicians. They’re giving away 2 prizes (1 for students and one physicians) of $2500 ($1000 Amex gift card and $1500 Apple gift card) and a trip to New Orleans where your app will be revealed at the AMA conference. They also have some runner up prizes of $100 American Express gift cards.

I love contests like this. Although, to be honest, if you have a really good idea for an app, I’m not sure exactly why you’d enter it into their app contest. Mostly because once you submit it to them, they become the owners of the idea. Apps aren’t that hard to build and so if you have a good idea, then why not build it yourself. Hop on a site like eLance.com or Guru.com and you can find some great app developers for a low cost. You could leave a comment below and I could help you find the right resources as well. I’ll just take 10% referral fee. That’s a lot better than the 100% the AMA will take.

Calling All Android Medical Apps

Posted on February 17, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Ok, so as you can tell from the title of this post, I’m looking for any and all Android medical apps that I can find. Yes, I am biased to Android since that’s what I use for my phone. I’d like to get an iPod touch, but I still haven’t gotten the chance to get it yet. So, for now I’ll be trying out the various medical apps for Android.

So, let me know which medical apps are the best ones you’ve found for the Android device. If you know of a list of Android healthcare apps, then that works just fine too. Let me know and after HIMSS I’ll get down and dirty with the apps and write about them here for everyone to learn and enjoy.

Thanks!

Welcome to Smart Phone Health Care!!

Posted on January 24, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Thanks for visiting Smart Phone Health Care. We’re still putting everything together, but soon you will find all the latest and greatest gadgets and technology that you can use in Health Care. Yes, we’ll be covering the various smart phone apps for the iPhone, Android and iPad. We’ll also take a look at the other medical devices that can make physicians and patients lives much easier.

Come back soon to find all the great mobile technology that’s available for health care.