What are health and wellness apps?
Health and wellness apps are mobile application programs that offer health-related services on smartphones, tablet PCs and other communication devices. There are many types of health and wellness apps focusing on various aspects of promoting digital health.
The most popular categories of health and wellness apps include:
- Sports and fitness activity tracking
- Diet and nutrition
- Weight loss coaching
- Sleep cycle analysis
- Stress reduction and relaxation
- Medical advice and patient community
- Menstrual period tracking
- Hospital selection and appointment management
Note that the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) distinguishes between general health and wellness apps that promote awareness, and wellness from other mobile medical applications that focus on diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
The FDA has authority to regulate mobile medical applications, but the line that distinguishes health and wellness apps from medical apps is slightly blurred.
“Mobile apps are software programs that run on smartphones and other mobile communication devices. They can also be accessories that attach to a smartphone or other mobile communication device, or a combination of accessories and software. Mobile medical apps are medical devices that are mobile apps, meet the definition of a medical device and are an accessory to a regulated medical device or transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device.”
The FDA doesn’t regulate all mobile apps, and makes that determination based on the following:
“The FDA is taking a tailored, risk-based approach that focuses on the small subset of mobile apps that meet the regulatory definition of ‘device’ and that are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device, or transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device. Mobile apps span a wide range of health functions. While many mobile apps carry minimal risk, those that can pose a greater risk to patients will require FDA review.”
For example, an app that records how many miles an individual runs is a health and wellness app. But if the same app claims to track exercise to help address obesity, then it can be linked to a disease state and transforms into a medical app – which may then be regulated by the FDA.
How are health and wellness apps used in the digital health industry?
Health and wellness apps vary a great deal, and are often used interchangeably with the term, mHealth apps. Each is designed with specific target users in mind - such as clinicians, consumers, and healthcare organizations.
Some apps serve more than one use, as when a patient with cardiac disease obtains activity information and sends it to his cardiologist for analysis and treatment recommendations.
As medical devices merge with communication devices and app-makers innovate, the types of available mHealth apps will continue to expand. For now, the most popular and recognized mHealth apps are categorized according to the purpose that each type serves:
Clinical and/or Diagnostic Assistance
- PHR (Personal Health Records) access
- Disease symptom analysis
- Digital medical imaging such as MRI and X-Ray
- Lab results review
- Electronic charts display.