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Mobile app guidance released

Canadian doctors now have access to guidance on how assess mobile health applications to recommend to their patients.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has become one of the first national medical association to provide assistance in this area by releasing “Guiding Principles for Physicians Recommending Mobile Health Applications for Patients”.

The high-level summary spells out how to assess a mobile health application to ensure it is safe and effective. The principles are accompanied by patients handouts to allow patients themselves to assess whether to use a health app to aid in managing their health.

“Mobile health is one of the fastest-growing areas in health care today,” CMA President Chris Simpson wrote in an editorial in Future Practice discussing the guidelines.

“It is important for Canadian physicians to understand when and how to use this technology to assist in providing better care. And it must be stressed that such tools should help complement the relationship between physician and patient and not replace it.”

The growth in the number of mobile health apps available to the public has been explosive in recent years and has been coupled with an increasing interest in wearable health technology and mobile health.

However, most mobile health apps are not governed by any regulations to ensure the information or instruction they provide is accurate or appropriate.

Some have called for the development of an approved list of mobile health apps that could be recommended to patients. However, the fact that there are more than an estimated 100,000 health and wellness apps available makes this a daunting if not impossible task.

The approach taken by the CMA has been to develop general principles and to seek input from various medical stakeholder groups on the validation of these principles.

The guiding principles list a number of characteristics that should be present for a mobile app to be safe and effective. These include:

  • Endorsement by a recognized medical or professional organization
  • Usability
  • Reliability of information
  • Privacy and security
  • Avoidance of conflict of interest.

Simpson writes that the CMA believes mobile apps can improve health care outcomes and mitigate costs if used appropriately.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.