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Health apps won't change behaviour, says professor

New op-ed argues that many applications have not been tested or approved by a regulator

Health apps 

New health applications for smartphones can be useful tools - but their use and outcomes are not guarantors of healthier behaviour, according to a new report in The BMJ

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.

They have been around for nearly a decade and tens of thousands are available across a number of smartphone ranges, 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, and assistant professor of emergency medicine, Wake Forest School of Medicine, North Carolina, USA.

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.

He says that while health apps are relatively new to researchers and few studies exist to demonstrate positive outcomes, doctors should not wait for scientific studies to prove benefits because these have already been shown and many people are currently using these in large numbers, he argues.

But 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, Prof Husain also notes. He explains that the FDA only regulates apps that turn smartphones into medical devices so industry can sell untested apps or make unvalidated health claims.

He calls on doctors to take a proactive approach and recommend apps which can help people to stay healthy.

Article by
Ben Adams

16th April 2015

From: Healthcare

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