Study: BP apps require greater oversight due to lack of validation

A vast number of mobile applications promising blood pressure and hypertension management capabilities lack validation and require greater oversight, claims a study published this month in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension.

The research analyzes the top 107 apps for monitoring blood pressure at Google Play and Apple iTunes. Tracking function was available in 72 percent of the apps, while 22 percent provided tools for helping patients adhere to prescription intake and 37 percent offered general information on hypertension (HTN). Eight percent of apps examined featured data on diet requirements for those managing HTN.

Just 3 percent of apps were created by healthcare agencies and 14 percent of the Google Android apps can transform a smartphone into a medical device for measuring blood pressure. That last data point is a big concern, the authors note.

"There is a need for greater oversight in medical app development for HTN, especially when they qualify as a medical device," the authors say; according to the report, none of the apps reviewed involved the use of a blood pressure cuff or provided "documentation of validation against a gold standard."

"This technology is really in its nascent stages, and it's not quite ready for prime time," lead study author Nilay Kumar tells Reuters Health. Kumar says researchers are concerned about the popularity of such apps, especially those that can integrate a smartphone for BPM use. Such apps, he says, have been downloaded between 900,000 and 2.4 million times.

"Consumers have a strong tendency to download and favorably rate apps that are advertised to measure blood pressure and heart rate, despite a lack of validation for these apps," the authors say.

As FierceMobileHealthcare previously has reported, nearly half of American adults (48 percent) are extremely interested in using smartphone and tablets for checking blood pressure, according to a recent Harris Poll.

Kumar describes blood pressure apps as in a "research-and-development stage," and not ready for clinical use.

"For now, we need to be careful that we are not using things that are inaccurate and could be potentially dangerous," he says, adding software inaccuracies could endanger consumers' health and the findings illustrate the need for greater regulation and oversight, specifically when a smartphone is essentially turned into a medical device.

Apple has already dealt with a software glitch in which its Health app was not compatible with blood glucose measurements used in Australia and the United Kingdom. Prior to that, a bug with Apple HealthKit prevented apps from linking with the platform.

For more information:
- read the research article at Journal of the American Society of Hypertension
- read the Reuters report