"New" Mobile Apps Guidance Released

I'm using the word "new" in the headline of this blog post in the technical sense that FDA uses for promoting drugs, namely within the past six months, because the new guidance was actually published in February of this year. I didn't notice it at the time, so apologies for the late notice.

I'm blogging about it anyway because the topic is of interest in general (namely what apps are subject to FDA enforcement focus vs. enforcement discretion), and because the update itself is interesting to FDA process geeks like me.

Here's a quick timeline for the uninitiated:

In 2011, FDA released its first draft guidance* about how it would apply its regulatory authority to the realm of mobile apps. Here's my take at the time.

Industry (and Congress) reacted as if FDA were suddenly imposing a new set of regulations on a vibrant and rapidly evolving technology, despite the fact that FDA had been regulating apps for years.** As a result, there was significant pressure exerted on FDA to finalize its guidance.

In 2013, FDA released a finalized version of the guidance. Here's my take at the time.

In 2014, FDA released a new draft guidance about Medical Device Data Systems. As I noted at the time, this guidance significantly downgraded the regulatory status of MDDS, essentially shifting the entire category of apps from the group of apps where FDA would focus its regulatory attention to the group of apps where FDA would exercise "regulatory discretion," i.e., choose not to enforce regulatory requirements.

In addition, this guidance also by extension altered the finalized mobile apps guidance, and though I agreed (and continue to agree) with this decision, I mentioned that this created an odd situation for those relying on FDA's guidance. We had a new draft guidance about MDDS, which was making revisions to the mobile apps guidance, without any indication in the mobile apps guidance itself that it was undergoing a revision.

Instead, FDA is maintaining a separate, real-time listing of apps that it is updating as individual classification decisions are being made.

I applaud this innovation. I think it helps industry tremendously to have FDA maintaining this consolidated listing of decisions, especially because (as the MDDS guidance itself shows), FDA is willing to reconsider these decisions as the technology evolves.

The wrinkle is that you have to keep on top of these process issues closely to understand them. Otherwise, you'd find yourself going to the guidance, which was always kept in its final status, and assume that you were reading FDA's current thinking about a topic without realizing that FDA had released other, newer guidance that contradicted the position from the "final" guidance.

Well, as of February of this year, that discrepancy has been resolved. FDA finalized the MDDS guidance, and at the same time (apparently), released an updated final mobile apps guidance.

In reading through the new version of the final guidance, it does not appear any significant changes have been made to the FDA's classification scheme for mobile apps, or any additional reclassifications have been introduced; however, if anyone finds such changes, please point them out in the comments.

* I'm posting this (and other) guidance on my own site. My sharing these documents should not be construed as endorsing the views set forth in it, nor should it be taken as a sign that these views represent FDA's current position. This link is merely being provided for historical research purposes and use by others who would like to see how FDA's position has evolved.
**According to both FDA and press, FDA has been clearing (i.e., regulating and accepting apps as medical devices) since at least 1997.

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