Digital health progressing, but experts note potential patient risks

Physicians see tremendous promise in digital health, given advancements in app features and device functionality, but are worried about potential risks to patients and the role of regulatory oversight, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

"It's clearly a net positive, but I think there are risks to [digital health]," Karandeep Singh, a University of Michigan professor, told the Times.

USC Center for Body Computing Executive Director Leslie Saxon, a cardiologist, describes mHealth as boasting "unbelievable potential," according to the Times, citing devices that track heart rhythm and post-surgical heart implant tools.

Yet, for all of those benefits, such technologies may also pose risks to users given the state of regulatory oversight, according to the physicians. That viewpoint is supported by recent Commonwealth Fund research that reported very few mHealth apps are useful, as well as a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine relaying how a once popular blood pressure app is proving to be highly inaccurate.

The latter scenario scenario, Singh told the Times, is "like having a really bad doctor."

Currently, mHealth technologies fall under review of the Federal Trade Commission, which is focused on marketing of the tools, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which evaluates and approves medical devices. The majority of today's 165,000 apps offer basic monitoring and tracking insight, which doesn't demand review and approval.

"If things are really, really hurting people, we could ... deal with them on a one-off basis as needed, but generally we would not take action," Bakul Patel, FDA associate director for digital health, told the Times.

Timothy Plante, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, cites the regulatory concerns and potential for erroneous data from mHealth apps and devices as " growing pains," according to the Times.

For more information:
- read the Los Angeles Times report