'Hucksters' peddle fraudulent healthcare apps with little repercussion

Consumers are being bamboozled by hucksters selling mobile health apps that purport to cure everything from acne to alcoholism, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting reports in today's Washington Post.

A check of 1,500 for-purchase health apps found that more than 20 percent claim to treat or cure medical ailments, with more than four in 10 boasting use of cell phone sound or light for treatment, according to the article--both of which, scientists say, is beyond dubious.

"Virtually any app that claims it will cure someone of a disease, condition or mental health condition is bogus," online health technology expert John Grohol told the Post. "Developers are just preying on people's vulnerabilities."

So far, the Federal Trade Commission has pursued only two cases involving health apps, both against developers claiming to use light from cell phones to treat acne, according to the investigative reporting center. Together, the two apps were downloaded nearly 15,000 times before the complaints alleging false and misleading claims were settled; the companies marketing the apps paid fines of $14,294 and $1,700, respectively, according to the article.

The FDA is expected to publish rules for regulating health apps by the end of the year, but the process has been "bogged down" by political wrangling, according to the Post. Another option is privately funded scientific reviews of health app claims by organizations like Happtique, which this summer released draft app certification standards.

Congress approved the FDA Safety and Innovation Act in July, creating a multi-agency commission to propose a strategy for regulating mobile health apps. But the commission's report is not due until after the FDA is expected to release its final regulation.

Critics, meanwhile, argue that whatever mechanism the FDA sets up for reviewing mobile health apps will be hard-pressed to keep up with the high pace of app development.

To learn more:
- here's the Post article