For the FDA the challenge will be to keep patients safe without impeding innovation. As Wilcox explains, whereas with prior new technology only tech-savvy young medical residents were willing to give it a whirl, today the interest is nearly ubiquitous among those in the profession. "Now you can build work flows around it rather than just letting people figure out how it helps them," Wilcox says. Apps such as PracticeRx, a safety notification system, could bring vital improvements to medical care by reporting medical errors to a central database. Programs that alert doctors to their patients' potential emergency room visits could save enormous amounts of health care dollars: ER inpatient stays are among the most expensive components of health care, and simply being able to reach a physician through an app could prevent an unnecessary admittance. The technology is also in sync with the electronic health records movement, likely adding momentum to mobile technology adoption.
Wilcox acknowledges a potential need for regulation of apps that go beyond communication and reference, such as those that monitor a patient's pulse or interpret electrocardiogram rhythms. But "the [apps] that should be regulated...are just a tiny fraction of what the real use is," he says. "It would be unfortunate if people interpreted regulation of the smart phone as a reason not to use it."