illustration of person tracking his health condition with smart bracelet, mobile application and cloud services.

Should We Regulate Direct-to-Consumer Health Apps?

By Sara Gerke and Chloe Reichel

According to one estimate, over 318,000 health apps are available in app stores, and over 200 health apps are added each day. Of these, only a fraction are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); those classified as “medical devices,” which typically pose a moderate to high risk to user safety.

In this final installment of our In Focus Series on Direct-to-Consumer Health Apps, we asked our respondents to reflect on this largely unregulated space in health tech.

Specifically, we asked: How can/should regulators deal with the assessment of health apps? For apps not currently regulated by the FDA, should they undergo any kind of review, such as whether they are helpful for consumers?

Read their answers below, and explore the following links for their responses to other questions in the series.

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gavel.

Appeals Court Overturns FDA’s Partial Ban on Shock Devices: Analysis of Ruling

By David Orentlicher

In its regulation of medical devices, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may ban devices that pose “an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury.” But earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decided that the FDA may not issue a partial ban of a medical device.

The case, Judge Rotenberg Educational Center v. FDA, addressed the use of electrical stimulation devices to treat self-injurious or aggressive behavior, as in patients with serious intellectual or developmental disabilities.

In March 2020, the FDA attempted to prohibit this use of electrical stimulation (or electrical shock) because of the risks it poses to patients. As the FDA observed, persons with self-injurious or aggressive behavior may have “difficulty communicating pain and other harms caused by” electrical stimulation, and consent to the use of electrical stimulation is typically made by a third party, limiting the patient’s control over use of the device.

In other settings, including smoking cessation treatment, or treatment of substance use disorder, the FDA permits the practice. Hence the partial, rather than total, ban of electrical stimulation devices.

But by a 2-1 vote, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center court held that prohibiting electrical stimulation in some settings, but not others, runs afoul of a “practice of medicine” statutory provision. This provision precludes the FDA from limiting or interfering with a health care practitioner’s authority “to prescribe or administer any legally marketed device to a patient for any condition or disease.” In the majority’s view, once the FDA permits use of a medical device, it must defer to the states for regulation of decisions regarding which patients are appropriate candidates for the device.

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We Need to Do More with Hospitals’ Data, But There Are Better Ways

By Wendy Netter Epstein and Charlotte Tschider

This May, Google announced a new partnership with national hospital chain HCA Healthcare to consolidate HCA’s digital health data from electronic medical records and medical devices and store it in Google Cloud.

This move is the just the latest of a growing trend — in the first half of this year alone, there have been at least 38 partnerships announced between providers and big tech. Health systems are hoping to leverage the know-how of tech titans to unlock the potential of their treasure troves of data.

Health systems have faltered in achieving this on their own, facing, on the one hand, technical and practical challenges, and, on the other, political and ethical concerns.

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Pile of colorful pills in blister packs

Expanding The Right to Try Unproven Treatments: A Dangerous, Deregulatory Proposal

By Richard Klein, Kenneth I. Moch, and Arthur L. Caplan

A new proposal out of the Goldwater Institute (GI), a libertarian think tank, advances an oversimplified critique of the U.S. regulatory process for approving medicines for COVID-19 and other diseases, with the ultimate goal of weakening the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

You may remember the Goldwater Institute as the architect of the initial state “Right to Try” (RtT) legislation from a few years ago. The idea, marketed as increasing access to experimental medicines, was actually calculated to circumvent FDA oversight so that individuals could try still-unproven experimental medicines without what Goldwater viewed as pointless bureaucratic paternalism. RtT legislation was adopted by 41 states and ultimately by the U.S. Congress.

When former President Trump signed the Right to Try bill into federal law with great fanfare on May 20, 2018, he stated that “countless American lives will ultimately be saved.” Three years later, the promise proved to be meaningless, as evidenced by the difficulty in identifying more than a handful of individuals who have even pursued the RtT pathway, much less finding data to show that it has saved lives.

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Top Health Considerations in the European Commission’s ‘Harmonised Rules on Artificial Intelligence’

By Rachele Hendricks-Sturrup

On April 21, 2021, the European Commission released a “first-ever” legal framework on artificial intelligence (AI) in an attempt to address societal risks associated with AI implementation.

The EU has now effectively set a global stage for AI regulation, being the first nation of member states to create a legal framework with specific intent to address or mitigate potentially harmful effects of broad AI implementation.

Within the proposed framework, the Commission touched on a variety of considerations and  “high-risk” AI system scenarios. The Commission defined high-risk AI systems as those that pose significant (material or immaterial) risks to the health and safety or fundamental rights of persons.

This post outlines four key considerations in the proposal with regard to health: 1) prioritizing emergency health care; 2) law enforcement profiling as a social determinant of health; 3) immigrant health risk screening; and 4) AI regulatory sandboxes and a health data space to support AI product commercialization and public health innovation.

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empty hospital bed

Regulatory Gap in Health Tech: Resource Allocation Algorithms

By Jenna Becker

Hospitals use artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) not only in clinical decision-making, but also to allocate scarce resources.

These resource allocation algorithms have received less regulatory attention than clinical decision-making algorithms, but nevertheless pose similar concerns, particularly with respect to their potential for bias.

Without regulatory oversight, the risks associated with resource allocation algorithms are significant. Health systems must take particular care when implementing these solutions.

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Vial and syringe.

Challenges in COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout: Lessons from the UK

By Sravya Chary

Just over a week after the United Kingdom became the first Western country to authorize the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech for emergency use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed suit on December 11, 2020.

This lag may prove beneficial. The United States can and should cautiously assess the United Kingdom’s vaccination strategy to avoid challenges that may impede its ability to control the virus.

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Vaccine.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Emergency Use Authorizations for COVID Vaccines

By Sravya Chary

Two COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers recently submitted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) requests to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their candidates.

While the need for a safe and efficacious COVID-19 vaccine is dire and immediate, an EUA may not be the best regulatory method to provide access. Experts warn that the EUA pathway may impede vital scientific progress needed to establish the long term safety and efficacy of investigational COVID-19 vaccines.

According to the FDA, an Emergency Use Authorization is a tool that allows an unapproved medical product to be released to the public in a health crisis given that the medical product meets statutory criteria outlined in Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

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WHO flag.

A Dose of Perspective on World Patient Safety Day

By John Tingle

The second World Health Organization (WHO) World Patient Safety Day was held on September 17th, 2020.

WHO made a call for global support, commitment, and collective action by all countries and international partners to improve patient safety. The theme for the year is “health worker safety: a priority for patient safety.”

The annual WHO World Patient Safety Day campaign is a welcome one, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Access to Drugs Before FDA Approval: Video Explainer with Christopher Robertson.

Access to Drugs Before FDA Approval: Video Explainer with Christopher Robertson

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions about the regulation of drugs in the United States.

One such concern relates to the use of drugs for treatment of COVID-19 that have not yet been FDA approved.

In this video explainer produced by the James E. Rogers College of Law of The University of Arizona, Christopher Robertson, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research & Innovation, discusses these issues, including the Right to Try Act and off-label use of pharmaceuticals, with NYU Grossman School of Medicine’s Alison Bateman-House, MPH, PhD.