Health apps a boon or bane?

Health apps a boon or bane?
Highlights

A team of medics has split on health app benefits.Health apps have the potential to make a broad impact on the health of the general population, argues one expert, but another explains that there is not enough evidence to support such claims and suggests that health apps may even be harmful.

A team of medics has split on health app benefits.Health apps have the potential to make a broad impact on the health of the general population, argues one expert, but another explains that there is not enough evidence to support such claims and suggests that health apps may even be harmful.

Widely available on smartphones, health apps aim to encourage people to adopt healthy behaviours ranging from weight loss to physical activity and to help patients to manage conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Health apps have been around for more than 10 years and tens of thousands are available on smartphones, making them easy to access and use. Some have been shown to improve health outcomes and have great potential to reduce morbidity and mortality, argues Iltifat Husain, editor of iMedicalApps.com.
He notes two randomised controlled trials that have demonstrated that weight loss apps on traditional personal digital assistants increased compliance and improved weight loss when compared to traditional programmes.
Despite no evidence of harm, there still may be drawbacks of using health apps and research has demonstrated some conflicting results, he adds. For example, research has shown that the fitness apps 'Fitbit' and 'Jawbone' accurately count users' steps and physical activity, but results did not find improved outcomes or exercise rates.
Many apps have not been tested and may not be useful or effective, he notes. He explains that the US Food and Drug administration only regulates apps that turn smartphones into medical devices so industry can sell untested apps or make unvalidated health claims.
In a second article, Des Spence, a general practitioner, argues that most health apps are mostly harmless and likely useless, but he warns of the rise of apps used alongside wearable devices that monitor heart rate, blood pressure and etc.
These are untested and unscientific, and play on the fears of an unhealthily health obsessed generation, he explains, adding that these can ignite extreme anxiety and medical harm through overdiagnosis of health conditions.
Medical technologies are already overused for magnetic resonance imaging and blood tests and people should be sceptical of more medical technology, he cautions.
The study appears in The BMJ.
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