What to Look For in a Good Health App

It seems like there are apps for everything these days, from banking to meditation and everything in between.

There are plenty of medical and health apps as well, each claiming to have the answer to your burning illness and wellness questions.

Even a good majority of medical records are kept in an electronic format now. How accurate are these apps? What should you look for in a good medical app, and when should you click that “uninstall” button? Let’s explore the answers to those questions.

Accuracy Is Essential for Health Apps

The most important thing when choosing a medical app is whether or not the information the app is providing is accurate. There’s no point in taking up space on your phone or other smart device with applications that are full of inaccurate or dangerous information.

When you’re researching health apps, look into the source of the app’s information — is it a no-name app mill that churns out low-end applications just to keep up with the latest trends, or does the information come from a legitimate source? Some good examples include apps such as the CardioSmart Med Reminder for the iPhone, which the American College of Cardiology endorsed.

On the other hand, some applications make wild claims that could have dangerous consequences — the Instant Blood Pressure app on the iPhone, for example, claimed to be able to monitor blood pressure without a cuff, just using the tools on the iPhone. When compared to a reading from a blood pressure cuff, though, the readings were always very inaccurate. If someone with hypertension used this app to monitor their blood pressure, they could put themselves at risk.

Legal Troubles With Health Apps

The accuracy of medical and health apps has come under fire recently, with a number of app and device manufacturers having to pay settlements due to inaccurate or misleading information.

Cardiio, a company that makes heart rate monitoring devices and their associated apps, recently became part of a $30,000 settlement for making misleading claims about the accuracy of its devices. It has since updated its data and cited peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate the accuracy of the devices.

Most of these apps and devices are not classified as medical devices, so they are not regulated by the FDA. This doesn’t mean that they are immune from prosecution if their claims are found to be incorrect. The ones regulated by the FDA have to pass the same clinical trials any other new medical device has to pass in order to be sold or used.

App developers who market their app or product as a medical device are setting themselves up to get in trouble with the FDA if their claims are challenged.

Electronic Health Records and the Mobile Future

While they haven’t yet been integrated into a medical app, a good majority of health records are stored in an electronic format. This makes them more secure — 54 percent of physicians believe electronic heath records are secure— and easier to access if you’re moving between different practitioners or facilities. Your primary care physician can update your electronic health record from their office, and your surgeon can pull up that same updated file at the hospital when you arrive for a procedure.

In the future, it might be possible for you to access or download your own medical records remotely, making it easier to keep track of your records and making it harder for thieves to steal your insurance information.

What to Believe About Health Apps?

So you’ve found an FDA-approved medical app to suit your needs. Now what? Has it answered all of your questions?

While medical and health apps can be a great tool to answer basic questions and put your mind at ease, they are no replacement for professional medical care.

If you find something in a medical app that explains something that you’re concerned about, don’t take it by rote — question everything and take those questions to your primary care doctor. Your doctor will either have the answer you’re looking for or be able to point you in the right direction to help you find the most accurate information.

Health apps are going to continue to grow in popularity as mobile technology continues to advance, but they are no replacement for a trained medical professional.

Always take your questions to your doctor, and be sure to consult with them before taking any new medication or making any changes to your healthcare regimen.

Image by RawPixel

About the Author

Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews is a gadgets and technology blogger who contributes to Gear Diary, MakeUseOf and Inc.com.

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