Wanted: Better Labeling for Health Apps in App Stores

Health apps (including games for health) are being used today by consumers and medical professional to treat diagnosable health problems.  They are currently unregulated, though the FDA this month announced the first round of regulation.

The FDA has specifically said they are not aiming at app stores (link).  However, there is clear need for improvement in today’s app stores.

Consumers should know if the health app they’re buying is effective, but today, there is no such information available.

The design of app stores (e.g. Google Play, Apple App Store) strongly influences the information developers disclose.  Right now, there are no guidelines for health app developers.  They are required to supply the same information as entertainment app developers.

I feel the health app community – mHealth, Games for Health, FDA, academics, and consumer advocacy organizations should band together to produce or endorse a single set of design guidelines. These guidelines are aimed at Google, Apple, insurance agencies, and other leading distributors of health apps to consumers.

App stores are the isle in the drugstore.  They are where consumers shop and compare.  Like the labels on over-the-counter medicine, developers of health apps should inform their consumers:

– what does this app aim to achieve? (reduce depression? weight loss? injury rehabilitation?)
– is the app effective? (an independent, 5-star rating from “promising” to “proven”)
– who is the app intended for? (age, condition)
– what are signs that further help is needed, and where can the user find that help?

I feel that, given the state of affairs, voluntary guidelines strike a good balance between overregulation and the total consuiosn in today’s app stores.

If you agree or have comments, please add a comment below or get in touch directly: josh@whit-kin.com