The rise of the smartphone has given way to the rise of mobile apps that can track, organize, and prioritize nearly every part of your life; apps to help people improve their health have become increasingly popular within the past couple of years. Software developers have even created wearable devices, like the new Apple Watch and the FitBit activity monitor, which automatically collect health-related data and sync this info with apps on mobile devices.
Americans are notorious for being overweight, eating unhealthy foods, and ignoring advice from doctors that would reduce the risk of preventable health problems like heart disease and diabetes — so it may be surprising that millions of consumers have snatched up health-centered apps and wearable devices, making many of these programs very successful.
Of course, simply buying a heart rate monitoring app doesn’t ensure that the consumer will actually use the app — or even attempt to develop healthier habits. As one Stanford University clinical professor of medicine explained to Forbes, “Wearing 10 monitors on your body isn’t going to do a thing unless you change your behavior.”
But a team of British researchers posed a different question: among those consumers who do use health apps regularly, do these consumers create and maintain healthier lifestyles?
This research team recently published an article in the British Medical Journal posing the question, and based on data from multiple health-centered mobile apps, it appears that these programs don’t always ensure better health, even when used regularly and correctly. In fact, as the New York Times has said, health apps may even “cause harm by stoking unneeded anxiety among the worried.”
The major problem with health apps, the article states, is that they are unregulated in nearly every way. App developers aren’t necessarily health experts, a wearable heart monitor could malfunction without the consumer knowing it, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has explicitly stated that it neither approves nor monitors health apps.Quite simply, these apps may help consumers track basic fitness and nutrition regimens, but it’s dangerous for consumers to think that these apps can take the place of a doctor, nurse, or certified health professional.
“Some patients over-diagnosis themselves and sometimes convince themselves that they are dying because of these health apps,” says Amber Garduno, Doctors Express Cherry Creek. “On the other hand, patients actually having the ability to do the research correctly themselves and be able to determine if a site is credible or not would be an advantage.”