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Choosing a smart app

Jun 12 2014

Nearly 500 million smartphone users worldwide are expected to use a health care app by 2015, according to a study by Research2Guidance. Yet a poll of 1,500 doctors conducted by medical education company Quantia shows that only 37 percent are actually recommending apps.

Why the gap?

Today, people can find more than 43,000 health-related apps on the Apple App Store alone. Of those, more than half have fewer than 500 downloads. And only about half are considered genuine health care apps, according to a 2013 study published by the Institute of Mathematical Statistics.

In addition, “doctors don’t know which apps are accurate or correct,” said Dr. Wayne Guerra, founder of mobile health firm iTriage®, a subsidiary of Aetna. “How many of those ‘control your diabetes’ apps were created without input from a health professional?”

“How many of those ‘control your diabetes’ apps were created without input from a health professional?”

Companies making health apps need two elements to succeed: public awareness and reliable content. Physician groups or third parties such as Consumer Reports and iMedicalApps could potentially review and recommend quality apps, and that could increase awareness among users.

For reliable content, app developers need to seek out the experts. Guerra notes that the content on iTriage is reviewed by experts at Harvard Medical School. “Credibility is everything when it comes to apps,” he said.

Of course, medical expertise is needed for more than just apps. A recent study of Wikipedia found medical articles on the web contained numerous errors.

Howard LeWine, MD, of Harvard Medical School, finds most info on Wikipedia to be correct, though he notes readers have to be careful. “The folks at Wikipedia do their best to accept only reliable information. But that doesn’t always translate to the most accurate content,” he said. “Of course, I’m biased to prefer academic institutions as the best sources of health and medical information.”

Here are some questions to ask about the health websites you visit:

  •  Where does the information come from? If the articles weren’t written by health care professionals, make sure they were reviewed by them. Also, check the About Us page. Is there an editorial board of medical professionals?
  • Does the site’s web address end in .gov, .org or .edu? This means the material came from a government source, a nonprofit organization or a college or university. These are generally, though not always, good sources.
  • Is the information current? Look for a reviewed, published or copyright date.
  • Can you contact someone? Reputable sources welcome questions.
  • Are the claims too good to be true? Stories with lots of exclamation points and words like “breakthrough!” should be warning signs.

For more information, read “Why Mobile Health Technologies Haven’t Taken Off (Yet)” from Forbes.

Apple, the Apple logo, iPad, iPod, iPod touch and iPhone are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.  App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc.