Medical apps are one of the fastest growing sectors in the app market. Medical apps broadly encompass any mobile app that is health related whether targeted to patients, physicians, students, etc. These apps range from providing easy accessibility to previously published texts, health advice, health monitoring for chronic diseases, treatment and dosing guidelines, etc.
A new responsibility that arises in the medical app world is management of transparency and conflict of interest issues. Generally, medical professionals are sensitive to concerns of industry involvement in medical education. There are policies in place that manage issues surrounding COI. These include regulating free drug samples, dinners, financial compensation, etc.
However, despite astute awareness when it comes to the aforementioned examples, there remains the question of why there is not more COI sensitivity in the medical app world. Consider for example an app made by a pharmaceutical company – it can suggest its own medicine for a specific disease, or even more subtly, list its drug first.
A recently published book, Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education and Practice (Lo and Field, 2009) lists potential sources of conflict by the pharmaceutical industry. Within medical subspecialties, medical professionals are beginning to notice the importance of authorship disclosure and transparency of the role of the industry (dermatology, psychiatry, to name a couple).
The paper sheds some light on the ethics surrounding increasing transparency for the medical app consumer. The paper points out the need for an increased awareness by all for the need for transparency as more and more of these apps are targeted at non-professional individuals who are potentially more susceptible as they are often not aware of COI issues in this context.
The utility of medical apps is clear–they will provide increasing value in management of patient care as we continue to move to electronically based medicine and medical recording. The need for increased transparency of authorship and industry relations is also clear. Medical apps have been added to the healthcare provider’s armamentarium to provide quality care. Just as we exert caution in avoiding biases with medications, treatments, and medical technologies, we must treat apps we recommend for our patients with the same good conscience.