FDA May Oversee Mobile Medical Apps

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeks input on its proposed oversight of certain health care-related mobile computer applications used on smartphones and tablets.

The watchdog agency has developed a strategy that it says “encourages the development of new apps, focuses only on a select group of applications and will not regulate the sale or general consumer use of smartphones or tablets.” FDA says mobile medical applications or “apps,” include a variety of functions, ranging from monitoring calorie intake, helping people maintain a healthy weight, and allowing doctors to view a patient’s radiology images on their mobile communications device. According to Research2Guidance 2010, 500 million smartphone users worldwide will be using a health care app by 2015.

“The use of mobile medical apps on smart phones and tablets is revolutionizing health care delivery,” said Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Our draft approach calls for oversight of only those mobile medical apps that present the greatest risk to patients when they don’t work as intended.”  The agency’s draft guidance defines a small subset of mobile medical apps that impact or may impact the performance or functionality of currently regulated medical devices. This subset includes mobile medical apps that:

a. are used as an accessory to medical device already regulated by the FDA (For example, an application that allows a health care professional to make a specific diagnosis by viewing a medical image from a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) on a smartphone or a mobile tablet); or

b. transform a mobile communications device into a regulated medical device by using attachments, sensors or other devices (For example, an application that turns a smartphone into an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine to detect abnormal heart rhythms or determine if a patient is experiencing a heart attack).

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The agency is seeking public input on this approach. Once posted, comments can be submitted for 90 days online or in writing to: Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. FDA says it will update the guidance based on the feedback received.

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