Should We Regulate Medical iPad Apps?

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Enthusiasm for iPhone and iPad apps among medical professionals is growing. As Martha White explains at the Big Money, these apps promise to make many functions cheap, intuitive, and easy, ranging from streamlining mountains of paperwork to simplifying the process of reading x-rays. iPhone medical apps are seen as a boon. But as they grow in popularity, how much should  the government step in to keep consumers from harm's way?

This is the question Jessica Wapner raises in Scientific American in an article exploring the introduction of medical smartphone apps into everyday practice. Citing a report from Manhattan Research, Wapner writes that 1,500 smart phone applications for health care professionals are already available for downloading, and that 81 percent of physicians will have a smart phone by 2012. Her main concern is the regulatory gray area these medical programs create create. Medical applications are technically medical devices, notes Wapner, and therefore subject to federal regulation. Yet "as apps enter the realm of routine medical care, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must consider whether and how to ensure patient safety around the hodgepodge medical apps market," Wapner explains. "The fact that some specialized medical apps are openly available to anyone with a smart phone may raise additional concerns. But excessive regulation of medical apps could also squelch what might be the part of the next great wave of innovations in health care."

Where should we draw the line between innovation and safety? How closely should the government examine medical iPhone and iPad apps?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.