Food and Drug Administration: Final Guidance on Mobile Medical Applications

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published its final guidance to govern its regulation of mobile medical applications. The FDA recognizes the extensive variety of actual and potential functions of mobile apps, the rapid pace of innovation in mobile apps, and the potential benefits and risks to public health represented by these apps. The FDA has issued this guidance document to inform manufacturers, distributors, and other entities about how the FDA intends to apply its regulatory authorities to select software applications intended for use on mobile platforms. Given the rapid expansion and broad applicability of mobile apps, the FDA is issuing this guidance document to clarify the subset of mobile apps to which the FDA intends to apply its authority.

Many mobile apps are not medical devices (meaning such mobile apps do not meet the definition of a device under section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act)), and FDA does not regulate them. Some mobile apps may meet the definition of a medical device but because they pose a lower risk to the public, FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion over these devices (meaning it will not enforce requirements under the FD&C Act). The majority of mobile apps on the market at this time fit into these two categories.

Consistent with the FDA’s existing oversight approach that considers functionality rather than platform, the FDA intends to apply its regulatory oversight to only those mobile apps that are medical devices and whose functionality could pose a risk to a patient’s safety if the mobile app were to not function as intended. This subset of mobile apps the FDA refers to as mobile medical apps.  The guidance defines a “mobile medical app” as a mobile app that is intended:

  • to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device, or
  • to transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device.

Intended use may be shown by labeling claims, advertising materials, or oral or written statements by manufacturers or their representatives. When the intended use of a mobile app is for the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or is intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man, the mobile app is a device, and will be subject to FDA regulation.

The guidance also lists mobile apps that the FDA intends to “exercise enforcement discretion”, or decline to regulate, even if they might be technically considered a “mobile medical app” (because of lower risks to the public).  These include mobile apps that:

  • Help patients (i.e., users) self-manage their disease or conditions without providing specific treatment or treatment suggestions;
  • Provide patients with simple tools to organize and track their health information;
  • Provide easy access to information related to patients’ health conditions or treatments;
  • Help patients document, show, or communicate potential medical conditions to health care providers;
  • Automate simple tasks for health care providers; or
  • Enable patients or providers to interact with Personal Health Record (PHR) or Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems.

The FDA guidance does not address the approach for software that performs patient-specific analysis to aid or support clinical decision-making.

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