Mobile Regulatory Fears PhRMA Raises an Alarm

App BoogeymanJohn Mack

In a blog post provocatively titled “An App for That, But For How Much Longer?” (here), PhRMA’s Kate Connors agreed with a Washington Times op-ed piece that suggested the FDA will soon require apps such as medication prescription renewal reminders and blood glucose level tracking functions to be regulated as medical devices. You can read the op-ed in this threaded archive: “How safe is that app? Should pharma apps be registered as medical devices?“.

The op-ed author, Joel White, executive director of the Health IT Now Coalition, “suggests that this effort would lead to increased costs as well as constraints on user access to these apps, which ‘may cause developers to move on to other, less burdensome endeavors.’ In the end, this could hinder the way that patients can actively improve their own care,” said Conners.

Before I get to destroying the case made by Connors and White, I should point out how these two people are related. White is the president of JC White Consulting, a registered lobbying firm (see here) retained by the Health IT Now Coalition and PhRMA, among others (see here). In her blog post, Connors said “A few days ago, I missed an op-ed in the Washington Times that I just came across today — and I’m glad I did.” Joel, you should have DM’d Kate! Whatever! It’s nice that White gets paid to write this “independent” op-ed piece that PhRMA can cite as if it were independent! Guys! Wake up! It’s the era of transparency! Unfortunately, you can fool some — maybe even most — of the people all of the time and that is what keeps PhRMA in business.

Anyway, back to “FDA Mobile Regulatory Fear Mongering.” I say “fear mongering” because it can’t be true that White and Connors failed to read FDA’s July guidance in which it stated that the agency does NOT consider the following types of apps to be mobile medical apps for purposes of the guidance:

“Mobile apps that are solely used to log, record, track, evaluate, or make decisions or suggestions related to developing or maintaining general health and wellness. Such decisions, suggestions, or recommendations are not intended for curing, treating, seeking treatment for mitigating, or diagnosing a specific disease, disorder, patient state, or any specific, identifiable health condition. Examples of these apps include dietary tracking logs, appointment reminders, dietary suggestions based on a calorie counter, posture suggestions, exercise suggestions, or similar decision tools that generally relate to a healthy lifestyle and wellness.”

PhRMA/White do not quote FDA because to do so — as I just did — would kill the argument that FDA mobile guideline/regulations will stymie pharma from developing apps and will “hinder the way that patients can actively improve their own care.” You should also read “No, the FDA is not assaulting mobile technology, Washington Times editorial misguided” published by iMedicalApps.

Meanwhile, there are medical apps being created by pharma that SHOULD be regulated by the FDA, IMHO. These are “calculator” apps designed to be used by physicians during diagnoses. One such app had to be “recalled” because of a bug that generated incorrect results. Unfortunately, thousands of physicians may not have heard of the “recall,” which merely removed the app from app stores, not from the phones of physicians who downloaded the app. These physicians may still be using the buggy app. See “Some Unregulated Physician Apps May Be Buggy

P.S. Connors pointed out that PhRMA has its own medication reminder app for patients: “In fact, we at PhRMA have helped support the Script Your Future campaign, which itself includes medication reminders as a tool.”

Just for fun, I signed up to receive reminders. I was, however, somewhat put off by the long legal disclaimer, which said, in part:

“You acknowledge and agree that we provide the reminder service and access to the reminder service as an “as is” and an “as available” basis, that your use of the reminder service is at your own risk, and that we make no representations, warranties or covenants whatsoever with respect thereto. For greater certainty, we do not guarantee that the reminder service will be available, run error-free or uninterrupted, that we will correct all errors or deficiencies related thereto or that all messages sent by you will arrive at their intended destination on time.”

ROTFL! In essence, PhRMA says it makes no promises that this app will be useful. How is this supposed to help me improve my care if PhRMA does not even care to fix errors or deficiencies? Not a very consumer-friendly attitude, I must say! BTW, I am sure the FDA did NOT require PhRMA to write that.

Issue: Vol. 11, No. 2
Publication date: 22 February 2012

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