Keeping Up With Mobile App Innovations

By: Christy Foreman

A smart phone that can perform an electrocardiogram (ECG)—measuring the electrical activity of a person’s heart to determine whether he or she is having a heart attack—is in my opinion an extremely smart phone. That is just one example of how mobile medical applications are transforming health care.

As we testified today before Congress, FDA has no intention of stifling innovation in this exciting and rapidly growing field. The fact is, only a fraction of mobile apps would require FDA review. However, when a mobile app is doing the job of a medical device that requires FDA clearance or approval, it’s only logical that both should be governed by the same rules. These are the small percentage of mobile apps that pose a risk of serious illness or death to patients. With these considerations in mind, FDA in coming weeks will be issuing a final guidance document that will help companies determine whether their product will require FDA clearance or approval.

They would be limited to mobile apps that meet the definition of device and are intended for use: 

  • to transform a mobile device into a medical device already regulated by FDA
  • as an accessory to a medical device already regulated by FDA

In addition to the smart phone that performs an ECG, other examples include a mobile medical app that controls the delivery of insulin; another that acts as a stethoscope; a mobile medical app that takes patient-specific information and provides a clinician with radiation dosage calculations, and mobile medical apps that allow doctors to view X-rays or other imaging on smart phones and tablets.

These examples show why FDA has a public health concern about the potential consequences of a malfunctioning mobile medical app. 

FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health has been reviewing mobile medical apps for more than 10 years and in that period we have reviewed about 100 applications and each review has taken about 60 days to complete. We’re confident that the center has the expertise to continue the timely review of the small number of submissions we expect to receive from mobile app developers.

Our final guidance will be informed by some 130 public comments, most of which were overwhelmingly supportive of our risk-based, narrowly-focused approach proposed in the draft guidance. Once the guidance is released, we are confident that the public will see that it represents a careful balance between the need to encourage innovative technology with our mission of providing reasonable assurance that medical products are safe and effective.

Christy L. Foreman is Director, Office of Device Evaluation, at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

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