Mark Senak, author of the highly informative and well written Eye on FDA blog, reported today that a recent article that appeared on the American Medical News website suggests that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be considering regulating mobile apps that contain medical or clinical components. While the agency has yet to officially publish guidance on the use of social media in the life sciences industry, it now appears that FDA may be turning its attention on the development of mobile apps; one of the fastest growing segments of the social media movement.
The reason why FDA is taking notice of mobile apps is because a handful of app developers have sought and received FDA clearance for their mobile apps that—because of clinical components —are considered to be “medical devices.” As many of you may know, medical devices which include band-aids, surgical instruments, heart monitors, cardiovascular stents and diagnostic kits, all must receive marketing approval by the agency before they can be sold in the US. Although the agency yet to craft any guidance for clinical/medical app development, it makes sense that FDA ought to evaluate and regulate these products to insure that they are medically-effective and safe.
According to the American Medical News article, the first app developer to receive FDA market clearance was AirStrip Technologies in San Antonio, for its AirStrip OB application. The app, which was approved in 2009, allows physicians to monitor mother and newborn remotely during delivery. In February, the FDA granted clearance to MobiUS, an app developed by Mobisante, a medical device company in Redmond, Wash. The app permits viewing of medical images for diagnostic purposes. Mobile MIM, a remote diagnostic imaging tool developed by Cleveland-based MIM Software, was also granted market clearance that month. A number of pharmaceutical companies, most notably Pfizer, have been extremely active in the mobile clinical app development space.
The reason why it makes sense for FDA to regulate certain clinical/medical apps is because physicians will rely on them to make medical decisions. For example, the AirStrip OB mentioned above will ostensibly allow physicians to remotely monitor a mother and neonate during delivery. Consequently, the app, aka device, must be evaluated by the agency to determine whether or not it can be used safely and effectively by physicians during childbirth. In this case, the app is similar to a heart monitor that is used during childbirth. And, like all other medical devices, the heart monitor required FDA clearance to determine its safety and effectiveness, before it could be used in real-life childbirth situations. To that end, the agency has hinted that it will be much more proactive in monitoring this new class of devices.
I have no doubt that many pharmaceutical companies and medical devices manufacturers will not be pleased when they learn that the agency is going to “stick its nose” into mobile app development. Nevertheless, in my opinion, if a mobile app is going to be used in possible “life or death” situation, then it ought to be regulated by FDA—the agency that is legally responsible for regulating these types of products. That said, Eye on FDA’s Mark Senak raises a number of valid and insightful points about FDA and its possible role in mobile app development.
“Related to a possible guidance for apps, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered when considering its development – when is an app a medical app? When does it require regulation? Who will pay for the oversight – will there be App Developers User Fee Act (ADUFA?) and if so, what will that do to the price and to access. Will insurance companies have to cover apps? And what will the process for approval be – something like a 510(k)?”
Finally, I think that the app developers who proactively approached FDA for guidance abut the clinical apps that they were developing “got it right.” This will get the agency “thinking” about clinical/mobile apps and how they ought to be approved and regulated in the future. In turn, this will provide future app developers with a clear regulatory framework that will guide the development of cost effective, safe and efficacious mobile clinical apps.
Until next time…
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!