Study: Pain management apps lack input from medical professionals

Although many pain management applications offer tips, advice and treatments, few of these apps are backed by science or created with input from a medical professional. That is the finding of an as-yet unpublished Ohio State University study, according to an article posted online by American Medical News.

In the study, researchers from Ohio State University evaluated 222 pain-related smartphone apps available for Android, iPhone and Blackberry smartphones. Of the apps that researchers reviewed, a third had no input from a health care professional, and for another third it couldn't be determined whether there was professional input.

The Ohio State University study, lead by Lorraine Wallace, PhD, was modeled after one conducted in the United Kingdom in 2011 that examined 111 pain-related apps. According to Wallace, the U.K. study similarly found that most of the evaluated apps "had no real evidence of healthcare input, or sketchy information was provided."

Wallace, an associate professor at Ohio State University College of Medicine's Department of Family Medicine, presented her findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine in April. She believes that smartphone apps have great potential for improving pain management, but argues that better oversight is needed from the Food and Drug Administration. 

The apps Wallace reviewed in the Ohio State University study ran the gamut of pain diaries to therapeutic advice for pain sufferers. Although it seems clear the FDA would not regulate a pain diary app, it's less clear if it would review apps that offered medical advice, she asserts.

In March testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, the FDA reassured Congress and the mHealth industry at large that the focus of the regulatory agency's oversight will be on a "small subset" of mobile medical applications. Christy Foreman, FDA's Director of the Office of Device Evaluation, testified that the agency's "narrowly tailored approach" would not require active FDA oversight of many apps that do not meet the definition of medical "device" under the the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

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