Once popular BP app fails miserably in accuracy, research claims

A once popular digital health app that monitors blood pressure is highly inaccurate and provides three-quarters of users with incorrect readings.

The good news is the Instant Blood Pressure (IBP) app is no longer available for download. The bad news, researchers say, is that it continues to be used by tens of thousands of individuals who already downloaded the app and continue to rely on it for blood pressure (BP) monitoring, according to a research letter published in the JAMA Internal Medicine.

"From a public health perspective, our study supports partnership of app developers, distributors and regulatory bodies to set and follow standards for safe, validated mHealth technologies," the researchers, from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Ponoma College in Claremont, California, say.

The call for a collaborative approach to define standards for mHealth tools is being sounded on a regular basis, though there remains a great deal of murkiness regarding how and if federal agencies should regulate digital mHealth technology. In late 2015 an ex-Food and Drug Administration official stated the current regulatory strategy leaves innovators in limbo. More recently, a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research revealed that healthcare app reviews aren't a viable vetting mechanism for such apps given a wide variation in reliability.

In late 2015, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via its nonprofit health tech start-up, announced it would begin publishing reviews of connected medical devices, services and apps researched by Harvard University physicians and experts from MIT's Hacking Medicine Institute.

The results of the IBP study indicate that the app either underestimated higher blood pressure or overestimated lower blood pressure for a good majority of 85 participants. Researchers state that 77.5 percent of participants with hypertensive BP levels were being falsely reassured their blood pressure was in the non-hypertensive range.

The app was released June 5, 2014, and taken down on July 30, 2015, after 421 days. According to the research letter, it was one of the top 50 best-selling iPhone apps for 156 days, and that at least 960 downloads took place each day. A July 2014 report at iMedicalApps noted concerns about the app's validity, and a later article, dated August 2015 reported the app's disappearance from the App Store.

"Our study has both clinical and public health relevance," the researchers write. "While IBP recently became unavailable for unclear reasons, it is installed on a vast number of iPhones; furthermore, several 'me-too' apps are still available. Hence, we remain concerned that individuals may use these apps to assess their BP and titrate therapy."

For more information:
- read the research letter
- read the iMedicalApps report