via Blood pressure app unreliable, clarionledger.com
Remember the old “medical tricorders” which became a fixture in the various “Star Trek” shows? Dr. McCoy and his fellow starship physicians were constantly waving these small devices over their patients, doing everything from scanning blood for toxins to mending broken bones. While some of us may have believed these devices actually existed, they were no more than Hollywood props, the technology behind them still in the realm of science fiction.
Many futurists believe the notion of the medical tricorder is not only possible, but in some ways, exists now. Already, wearable devices can track your heart rate, respiration and estimate your calorie count. And in the next few years, medical science promises even more wonders. A lot of those developments will be coming through today’s smartphones and their descendants.
But one thing that’s apparently not within the ability of a mobile device — at least yet — is accurately recording your blood pressure without using traditional methods. Such claims have landed at least one company in hot water with federal regulators.
The Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with a company called Aura Labs Inc., doing business as AuraLife and AuraWare, after charging it with deceiving customers into thinking their “Instant Blood Pressure” or “IBP” app could provide blood pressure readings that were as accurate as a traditional blood pressure cuff. In a $595,000 settlement with the FTC, Aura Labs settled allegations the company’s owner provided positive customer reviews for the product without disclosing his conflict of interest.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Aura sold the IBP app through Google Play and Apple’s App Store for between $3.99 and $4.99, garnering more than $600,000 in 2014 and 2015. Marketing messages included claims the app “could be used to replace around-the-arm cuffs and would be just as accurate as the traditional device,” the FTC charged. Users were instructed to place their index finger on the phone’s camera lens and hold the base of the phone over their heart.
But — at least according to the FTC — that wasn’t enough to get a good measurement. The agency reported that the readings from this activity were “significantly less accurate” than readings obtained the traditional way. “Although defendants represent that the Instant Blood Pressure App measures blood pressure as accurately as a traditional blood pressure cuff and serves as a replacement for a traditional cuff,” the FTC charged, “in fact, studies demonstrate clinically and statistically significant deviations between the app’s measurements and those from a traditional blood pressure cuff.”
Of course, a visit to the Apple or Android app stores will reveal thousands of apps that make similar promises. Shutting down one is not likely to stop the sale of apps with questionable medical value. Many medical experts have become increasingly concerned about the proliferation of these apps, which — even though they may include disclaimers that the app is “for entertainment purposes only” — could give people false information about their health with possible disastrous consequences. If you’re considering buying one of these apps, most experts advise you to be careful, and not rely on them for something as important as your health.
But there is good news on the horizon; if the meteoric rise of technology over the past few decades is any indication, science fiction will eventually become science fact. In the not-too-distant future, a descendant of the smartphone you live with every day will really help you live longer, healthier lives, eclipsing the wildest dreams of “Star Trek.” Dr. McCoy will be jealous.