Many health-related smartphone applications are untested and make false claims about their efficacy, according to an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, the Washington Post reports.
Investigators examined 1,500 health-related apps that cost money and have been available since June 2011. It found that one out of five of the apps claim to treat or cure health conditions.
Of the 331 therapeutic apps studied, the investigation found that:
- Nearly 43% relied on cell phone sound for treatment;
- 12 apps relied on cell phone lights for treatment; and
- Two apps relied on cell phone vibrations for treatment.
Scientists have said that none of these methods are effective treatments for the conditions that the apps target.
For example, the Federal Trade Commission has said that some app developers have made "false or misleading" claims that blue and red lights on cell phones can help fight acne and heal skin.
James Prunty -- an FTC attorney -- said that cell phone lights are in the wrong spectrum and are far too weak to have any therapeutic value.
Health Care Concerns
John Grohol, an online health technology expert, said, "Virtually any app that claims it will cure someone of a disease, condition or mental health condition is bogus," adding that app developers "are just preying on people's vulnerabilities."
Satish Misra -- an internal medicine resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital -- said that the apps could give consumers a false sense of security and prevent them from seeking needed medical attention.
FDA, Others Move To Assess Quality of Apps
FDA is drafting regulations that specify which types of health apps will need government approval before they can be marketed. However, the regulations have been delayed by debates over whether government oversight would negatively affect innovation.
In addition, several private groups are working to evaluate the quality of various health apps.
For example, Happtique -- a subsidiary of the Greater New York Hospital Association -- is preparing to launch the country's first certification service to evaluate the safety and efficacy of health apps (Sharpe, Washington Post, 11/12).