You may be hard-pressed to find a smartphone without one. Healthy living, lifestyle, fitness, and medical apps are rising in popularity, but can they be trusted to give accurate and safe information?
With somewhere close to 97,000 personal health apps available for download, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can't regulate them all. Their greatest concern lies not with apps that keep track of exercise or make ballpark guesses about how many grams of fat are in your hamburger, but rather in apps that try to tell seniors when and how much medicine they should take.
Slight errors in software could mean severe consequences. About 100 apps on the market today have FDA approval with functions ranging from electrocardiography to connecting patients to the right doctors. Some apps described as "ambitious" aim to help people manage the symptoms of chronic diseases or keep diabetics' insulin in check. While a widespread failure of these apps has not been reported or connected to a string of injuries, there have been individual cases where errors, bugs, and misinformation have caused users harm. These are next on the FDA's list to review, but it could be some time before a full consultation is possible.
In the meantime, the FDA and doctors urge anyone who uses personal health apps to discuss their effectiveness with a doctor, especially if they are intended to help with a chronic or serious condition. For the time being, the FDA says that there is no substitution for a conversation with a medical professional.
When products claim that they are helpful and accurate, developers have a responsibility to keep users safe. If you or a loved one was hurt by a faulty product, you may have a case.
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