Government cracks down on misleading medical apps

In its first enforcement action in the mobile health market, the Federal Trade Commission has forced two app companies to stop making health claims for their smartphone apps.

The two apps, AcnePwner and AcneApp, claimed that they emitted light from a smartphone screen to kill bacteria that causes skin blemishes. In total, the apps have been downloaded nearly 15,000 times, FTC officials say.

Officials went further, saying that the health claims were based, not only shoddy science, but also on a deliberate misinterpretation of scientific data. Certain types of light can be used to treat acne, but not the low levels emitted by a smartphone, dermatologists tell IT Health Care.

"Smartphones make our lives easier in countless ways, but unfortunately when it comes to curing acne, there's no app for that," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement yesterday.

Combined with recent FDA guidance on mobile medical app development, the FTC's move signals a new willingness by the government to crack down on the exploding healthcare app/mobile market. It's important to note that the FTC only just settled its first case against any kind of mobile app--one that charged an app company with collecting and storing children's personal data without parental permission--on Aug. 15. Barely three weeks later, regulators already have turned their attention to healthcare.

The case of an acne-related app might not seem earth-shattering, but there's an underlying message that developers and providers alike should take away, Todd Richardson, CIO for Deaconess Health System, Evansville, Ind., tells FierceMobileHealthcare. The message: The FTC is now watching the mHealth market, and is ready to step in if needed.

Healthcare providers who develop apps, or even simply link to or recommend them to patients "have got to be vigilant because this is clearly a market that is ripe for fraud and abuse," Richardson adds. But with the public appetite for healthcare apps growing by the day, "I think [FTC regulators] are going to have their hands full," sussing out the good apps from the bad.

To learn more:
- get more detail from the FTC press release on the two health apps
- check out this blog post
- read the iMedicalApps story

Share this on Twitter