It is most encouraging to see that the FTC in the US has reached a settlement with two suppliers of “Melanoma Detection” apps: “In two separate cases, marketers of MelApp and Mole Detective have agreed to settlements that bar them from continuing to make such unsupported claims.” The FTC are pursuing actions against two other companies.
Echoing the requirements also of the EU’s Consumer Protection Directives as applied to health claims (notably the Misleading & Comparative Advertising Directive 2006/114EC), Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said: “Truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace.” “App developers and marketers must have scientific evidence to support any health or disease claims that they make for their apps.”
Sadly, despite a number of exposures of ‘bad apps’ that we have previously covered, as yet no action has been visible in the UK or EU. For example, in April 2014, Dr Richard Brady gave a talk at the RSM’s sellout Appday on the “Bad Apps – Mistakes that can be dangerous” (available on RSM video here) in which he drew attention to many of the shortcomings of unregulated apps, including Opioid converters, melanoma monitors (here, here & here), and a blood pressure smartphone app problem. (Richard will, by the way, be giving an updated presentation at this year’s RSM Appday on 9th April.)
Others have expressed concern too – eg in February 2014 the JMIR published a paper by Rachel Bierbrier, Vivian Lo & Robert C Wu. Whilst noting that most apps that the authors tested were ok, they found worrying errors in two functions: the Child-Pugh scores and Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) scores on eight apps (out of 17). The authors state that 47% of the errors were clinically significant resulting in a significant change in prognosis.
As someone passionate about the beneficial opportunities offered by medical apps, this editor is anxious to ensure that they do not get a bad name because of one or two bad examples, so applauds the FTCs actions and urges the UK & EU authorities to copy their example.