Why Apple Just Set Strict Guidelines for All Health Apps
The Fruit is saying goodbye to phony medical advice via their app store
In 2016, smartphones are so ingrained in our lives that we look to them to keep track of everything-including our health and medical information. We also consult them for answers on pretty much any medical issue we can think of, from a funny-looking mole to terrible period cramps. (BTW, read this if you're wondering: Is an Online Diagnosis from WebMD, Mayo Clinic, or Other Sites Safe?)
While it's amazing to have quality information available at your literal fingertips, the instant-info era has resulted in new, tech-specific problems. There are plenty of credible health apps, but there are still many on both Apple and Android that either promise to do impossible things (like treat your acne with advice provided by artificial intelligence) or provide erroneous medical advice. Last year, two melanoma screening apps were actually sanctioned by the Federal Trade Commission because their technology was proven inaccurate after extensive testing. A JAMA Dermatology study found that the apps incorrectly classified 30 percent of melanomas as "unconcerning." Obviously, the implications of faulty medical evaluation like this could be dire if the use of the app is being substituted for a real-life doctor visit. In fact, Reuters reported on the disturbing trend towards phony health apps back in 2014, noting that some kind of regulatory framework or monitoring agency was necessary in order to prevent faulty medical advice.
Thankfully, Apple just released some new, much stricter guidelines last week on what independent developers can put into health-related apps and how they can be used. These new rules also put a focus on user privacy, which is key when it comes to storing highly personal medical information. Firstly, Apple states that apps "must not write false or inaccurate data into HealthKit or any other medical research or health management apps, and may not store personal health information in iCloud." Additionally, apps may not conduct research with user data without obtaining consent and being reviewed by an independent ethics board. Apple also emphasized that if an app "behaves in a way that risks physical harm, we may reject it." For example, "medical apps that could provide inaccurate data or information, or that could be used for diagnosing or treating patients may be reviewed with greater scrutiny." So basically, an app that scans photos your moles and tells you if they're suspicious is probably going to be a no-go unless the photos are being reviewed by an actual medical professional.
Considering how useful health and medical apps have the potential to be, the fact that Apple is taking precautions to make their use safer is definitely a step in the right direction. By protecting users' privacy and supervising the quality of information that's available, they're making all of their apps more legit. ~ Snaps for Apple ~