FDA Works Toward Regulating Medical Apps

In recent years, people are turning more and more to the Internet for health information and to “self-diagnose.” With an increasing variety of medical apps available for the iPhone, iPad, Android, and other mobile platforms, self-diagnosis has become even more accessible. Unfortunately, however, checking the boxes next to a variety of symptoms and waiting for a mobile device to spew forth a litany of potential ailments lacks the sensitivity and accuracy of a human diagnostician. Further, those who are not trained in medicine may misinterpret symptoms as erroneously relevant or erroneously irrelevant, leading to misdiagnosis.

Medical apps

Poll Shows More Consumers Using Social Media for Health Information

A poll conducted by consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that one-third of Americans use social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to obtain information about health and wellness [1]. Respondents reported using social media resources to self-diagnose, get information about prescription drugs, and check up on doctors’ and hospitals’ reputations.

Connected via social media

FreeMD – Ask the Virtual Doctor

DSHI Systems is a physician-led medical technology company and a supplier of triage decision-support software solutions. Last week, the company announced the release of freeMD.com, an electronic doctor that performs an interview, analyzes symptoms and provides expert advice — all for free [1]. The website contains an expert system that emulates the triage function doctors perform when assessing the potential severity of a group of symptoms. FreeMD is able to analyze more than 3,000 symptoms and injuries in infants, children and adults.

freemdFreeMD.com combines text and a video doctor to ask questions about your symptoms and past medical history, and then generates a record in the form of a personal web page. The personal web page contains important information about your condition, your answers to the interview questions, and links to specific health information. Consumers can print out a copy or email the record to their doctor for review. It’s as easy as clicking “E-Mail” or “Print” in the toolbar at the top right of the page.

According to Dr. Stephen Schueler, M.D., CEO of DSHI Systems [1]:

Consumers are on their own when making the decision to see a doctor. Do they go to the emergency room, urgent care center, doctor’s office, or the nurse retail clinic? How does the average person know what to do? We have created a life-like experience that provides personalized recommendations.

FreeMD provides answers to important questions, such as: what might be causing my symptoms; do I need to see a doctor; how do I care for myself; where should I go for care? The website enables consumer-driven healthcare by empowering consumers and enabling them to avoid dangerous delays in care. The system also suggests where to go for care, reducing dependance on the emergency room.

FreeMD Breakthrough Technology

  • Uses video to conduct the interview (also uses text and photos)
  • Analyzes thousands of symptoms and injuries
  • Generates a personal web page that contains care instructions and a detailed health record

FreeMD Evidence-Based Medicine

  • 100% physician-written and maintained
  • Proven accuracy through millions of interactions
  • Reviewed by doctors and nurses for more than 10 years

For the last eight years, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has used DSHI Systems’ Veterans Health Gateway, a sophisticated software system used by nurses to provide health advice via the telephone [2]. A similar system, 24/7 WebMed, has been used by University of Central Florida (UCF) students since 2004 to look up information on specific illnesses and allow the site to guide them through a series of questions about symptoms to determine the illness [3]. UCF now uses FreeMD, which replaces the older 24/7 WebMed system.

According to the website, freeMD doesn’t make a diagnosis, but instead determines your risk for one or more condition(s) that could explain your symptoms. Nevertheless, I tried freeMD a couple of times tonight while writing this article and was impressed with its recommendations. Give it a try and let me know your thoughts.


  1. DSHI Systems Debuts FreeMD the Web’s First Virtual Doctor. DSHI Systems Press Release. 2008 Apr 21.
  2. Veterans Health Gateway (VHG). Document Storage Systems, Inc. Services & Solutions. Accessed 2008 Apr 30.
  3. UCF Students Can Access Health Information, Advice on 24/7 WebMed Site. University of Central Florida News & Information. 2004 Nov 21.