Did edutainment fail because of shovelware (a flood of low quality software)? How do we prevent this in health apps?
As a developer of games for health, I feel there is clear need for improvement of health app labeling in today’s app stores. Like the labels on over-the-counter medicine, developers of health apps should inform their consumers:
App stores are, like the isle in the drugstore, where consumers discover new treatments while shopping.
Health apps (including games for health) are being used today by consumers and medical professional to treat diagnosable health problems. They are currently unregulated, though the FDA recently announced their first moves toward regulation. They are medical-grade interventions, and they can be very effective. Weight-loss, anti-smoking, depression and anxiety - many health issues can be treated by consumers using apps.
Consumers should know if the health app they’re buying is effective, but today, there is almost no such information available.
The FDA has specifically said they are not aiming at app stores (http://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/connectedhealth/mobilemedicalapplications/default.htm).
The design of app stores (e.g. Google Play, Apple App Store) strongly influences the information developers disclose. Right now, there are some guidelines for educational apps, but no guidelines for health app developers.
Health app developers are only required to supply the same information as entertainment app developers. That doesn't seem right to me.
What if the health app community (mHealth, Games for Health, FDA, academics, and consumer advocacy organizations) would band together to produce or endorse a single set of health app store design guidelines? These guidelines are aimed at Google, Apple, Amazon, Blue Cross, Kaiser, and other leading providers of health apps to consumers. The guidelines would reocmmend the app store require developers to answer basic questions a reasonable consumer might have:
- what does this app aim to achieve? (reduce depression? weight loss? injury rehabilitation?)
- is the app proven effective? (using 5-star rating, logo, select adjectives e.g. “promising” to “proven”
- who is the app intended for? (age, condition)
- what are signs that this app is insufficient for the severity of the problem?
- where can the user find impartial, reliable information about this condition?
Like many, I fear regulatory paralysis on any innovative space, but to me in this case, that risk is lower than the risk of harm to consumers in "wild west" of health apps in today's app stores.
I feel that today, voluntary guidelines strike a good balance between overregulation and the total confusion in today’s app stores.