Blood pressure app revelation illustrates divide between mHealth potential, reality

Tools

News this week regarding a digital health app's lack of accuracy drives home a clear message that while tremendous strides have been made in the health information technology industry, we're still a long way from seeing apps deliver what longstanding, verified devices have been providing for decades.

The case in point involves a blood pressure app, Instant Blood Pressure (IBP), which offered users the ability to track BP. Following its debut on June 5, 2014, it quickly became one of the most popular apps in the App Store, and was a top 10 best-selling app for 156 days before being removed from the store on July 30, 2015, on the heels of validity concerns--after 421 days on the market.

Considering the first warnings about the app's inaccuracy appeared within a month of its debut via iMedicalApps.com, the fact that the app not only soared in popularity but remained available for so long for download is worrisome.

Just over 158,000 smartphone owners downloaded the app in the year it was in market and, as a research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine notes, it's more than likely that many are still using and relying on the app for health tracking.

In a recent Reuters article, the app's developers defend the accusations of a potential health threat. Ryan Archdeacon, CEO and co-founder of AuraLife, told Reuters that IBP was not marketed as a medical device and "not intended to diagnose disease, including hypertension."

Yet, as the iMedicalApps report clearly illustrates, using actual screen shots and usage directions from the app itself, IBP purports to serve as a substitute for the traditional and trustworthy blood pressure cuff device.

Hopefully, between industry reports and consumer media reports, word will get out to those 158,000 users to dump the app and get their blood pressure checked in a reliable fashion.

This IBP app debacle is a prime example of why oversight of mobile health apps is needed; it illustrates how far we are from apps replacing trusted healthcare devices such as the blood pressure cuff. It serves as a reality check that such technology should still be viewed as a supplement, not a replacement, to healthcare tools. At least for now. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)