Health Apps: Will They Really Useful to Our Health?

Nearly 20% of smart phone users have one or more than one health apps on their gadget that allows them monitor or manage their health. It is approximated that by next year, more 500 million smart phone users globally will be making use of healthcare apps. There is no question that these apps are increasing in popularity. But will they really beneficial to our health?

Recently, Apple introduced HealthKit – a health app that provides all your health data collectively in one place and enables you to share it with your physician. Image credit: Apple

With respect to the US FDA, mobile health apps are “medical gadgets that are mobile apps, fulfil the definition of a medical device and are equipment to a regulated medical device or alter a mobile platform into a regulated medical device.”

There are apps that enable us to monitor nearly every aspect that affects health, which includes weight, cholesterol levels, exercise, heart rate and sleep quality, sugar levels and few can even identify cancer.

A latest study exposed that scientists from the University of Washington are creating a smartphone app that they say enables parents to screen their infants for jaundice.

A variety of personal health information is quite basically in the palm of our hands. But not surprisingly, the efficiency of these healthcare apps has been questioned.

Do calorie-counting and fitness applications pull their weight?

Previous year, the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics performed an research of over 40,000 health apps accessible for download on the US Apple iTunes app store, searching particularly at how these apps advantage consumer health.

Only 16,275 of these applications are directly connected to patient care and therapy, with respect to the researchers, while the others offer information that in no way enhances patient wellness or well-being.

The most downloaded healthcare apps are those that declare to assist with dieting, weight loss and fitness. Some of the very common involve MyFitnessPal and FitBit – free calorie counters and fitness trackers.

Previous year, MyFitnessPal pulled in 40 million customers, but the report from the IMS institute states that its efficiency did not fulfill its popularity. In fact, they explain that very few research present that calorie-counting apps are efficient.

Similar results were echoed in a research by scientists from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in which they compared 30 well-known weight-loss apps with conventional weight-loss strategies.

The team identified 25% or fewer lifestyle-based methods for weight loss – like as portion control and determining reasons behind over-eating – were integrated in 28 of the apps, which means they were probably to be worthless for weight loss.

“Our outcomes suggest that many app designers are not including proven behavioral methods in their apps,” stated study author Dr. Lenard Lesser. “Without long-term information on whether these applications work, it is difficult to suggest them as the solution for inadequate eating habits. While we await that data, app designers should work with health experts to make sure they are making their applications as beneficial as possible.”

But not all studies condemn the efficiency of weight loss apps. In 2012, a research from Northwestern University in Evanston, stated an app that monitored eating and physical exercise assisted users lose 15 pounds and keep the bodyweight off for minimum a year.

The team accepted, however, that the application was only successful when used in combination with other weight loss assistance, such as nutrition and exercise sessions.

Could health apps be harmful to health?

Worthless weight loss applications are one thing, but some health care experts say the efficiency of other health apps could mean the variation between life and death.

Previous year, a research by experts at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, questioned the reliability of 4 healthcare apps that claim to identify skin cancer.

Using images of 188 skin lesions – 60 identified as melanoma and 128 identified as benign – the scientists examined three apps that use algorithms to identify the possibility of cancer, while the fourth sends pictures of skin lesions to a skin specialist for evaluation.

The team identified that even the most accurate of the applications that used algorithms skipped 18 of the 60 lesions diagnosed as melanoma and considered them low-risk for cancer.

Leaving comments on these results, Dr. Darrell Rigel, informed ABC News:

“It is really concerning that these applications are applied for diagnosis by sufferers, as it could cause to postpone in diagnosis of melanoma, the cancer which is probably the most crucial in early diagnosis being significant for survival.”

The scientists outlined that the developers of these applications had reported that they are developed for educational purposes instead of cancer diagnosis and shouldn’t take the place of standard medical care. But the group said their results are still worrying:

“Launching a tool to the public needs some thought as to how it could be abused. This possible is of specific issue in times of economic hardship, when uninsured and even insured sufferers, deterred by the cost of co-payments for medical visits, may turn to these apps as alternatives to doctor evaluation.”

No need for medical input when establishing health apps

You do not require being a medical expert or source medical input to create a health app, and some professionals say this poses difficulties.

In a report for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Dr. Orrin I. Franko, describes:

“The approval procedure usually needs that the app meets every company’s recommendations and pertain to content matter, but the procedure does not confirm the data included within the program for medical reliability or functionality prior to making the app available for public use.”

“The outcome is a quickly accessible library of mobile healthcare apps without validation or peer review that can be downloaded by sufferers, students, and providers alike.

Although some applications consist of a legal declaration, they are not needed to disclose their restrictions or information sources. As an outcome, a legitimate issue regarding the development of dangerous apps exists.”

Last year, the FDA released final guidance for designers of mobile health apps. FDA mentioned that they will concentrate on regulating a small number of healthcare apps that they think high-risk for consumers, like as mobile apps that are designed to be used as an equipment to a controlled medical device, and those that convert a mobile platform into a regulated medical device.

They mentioned, however, that due to the fact many mobile health apps do not fulfill the meaning of medical devices under the US Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, it does not control them.

Even though the FDA recommendations are a step forward in making sure the safety and efficiency of mobile health apps for consumers, Dr. Franko said more requires to be done:

“Certainly, higher involvement of real health care professionals in the creation, development, and evaluation of apps is a essential step toward guaranteeing the safety of sufferers and decreasing the risks of providers.”

Sharing data with physicians

Although the performance of healthcare apps has been questioned by some, a lot of believes the apps are transforming the healthcare world for both sufferers and health care providers.

And also just tracking our health, many applications can be a portal to better health care by enhancing communication between physician and sufferer.

One of the very latest examples of this is the Apple HealthKit – ultimately released 2 days back after few weeks of software issues.

For the person who uses the application on their iPhone or iPad, the application will offer an “easy-to-read dashboard of your wellness and fitness information.” Generally, it pulls jointly an array of data that is gathered by third party healthcare apps and displays them in one place.

But what is most impressive is that you can select to send your health information to your doctor. “For instance, you can enable the data from your blood pressure application to be instantly shared with your physician,” Apple describe on their website.

Back in June, Google declared they will be releasing a similar platform, known as Google Fit. A release date is yet to be confirmed.

Apple HealthKit – not essentially ‘the starting point of a health revolution’

With respect to Apple, HealthKit “just might be the starting of a health revolution.” But some medical experts are not so sure.

Once more, the issue of reliability is lifted. Communicating to Forbes, Dr. Dushan Gunasekera, states that:

“While having this information could be of use, a physician is not able to assurance that whichever blood pressure observe, glucose monitor or fitness monitor a sufferer is using will be correct. Because of this, it’s unlikely that we will ever be at a point where a physician will take a look at your phone and be capable to give a diagnosis.”

Dr. Gunasekera adds that HealthKit could also impact users’ mindset and make them weird about their health.

“The key to Apple HealthKit being helpful all rests on the data generated being interpreted properly,” he says. “There is absolutely a risk that individuals will see a sharp drop in one of their graphs and understand that as a big issue, when in fact the reading could still fall within a regular range.”

And of course, there is the problem of data security. Apple ran into some problems lately when it emerged that hackers had accessed nude photos from stars’ iCloud accounts – Apple’s online storage system. This increases the question: will people’s HealthKit data be safe?

Apple have previously warned designers using HealthKit to make sure users’ data is maintained away from iCloud, and have mentioned that data can’t be sold to marketers or other organizations that may sell it on. With permission, however, it can be offered for research purposes.

Despite issues, Dr. Gunasekera notices that HealthKit does have several benefits. For example, he told Forbes that diabetics could benefit significantly from the app:

“Diabetics have to regularly evaluate their blood glucose level, which is usually done using a pinprick and a small quantity of blood being examined with a portable device. But there are small monitors that can be incorporated under the skin that can monitor blood glucose that could then be monitored using something like Apple HealthKit.”

He says it could also be very helpful for pregnant mothers, as they require to ensure their health is carefully monitored while in pregnancy.

“Tracking something like heart rate would give moms a way of guaranteeing their baby is doing well. There are techniques to do this at the moment, but it includes regular prenatal examinations and there’s no actual way of monitoring stats in-between. By wearing a monitor at all times a mom could have her iPhone alert her if something was wrong.”

The use of HealthKit in clinical studies

But it appears Apple are using HealthKit to take their “health innovation” much additional than just doctor and patient.

It was recently announced that the platform is being used in two separate clinical studies. One trial including researchers from Stanford University Hospital, is using HealthKit to enable doctors to track blood sugar levels in kids with diabetes.

The other study – including scientists from Duke University in Durham, are using HealthKit to monitor blood pressure, bodyweight and other health measurements in sufferers with heart disease or cancer.

Leaving comments on the incorporation of HealthKit into clinical study at Duke, Dr. Ricky Bloomfield, states that:

“HealthKit will offer sufferers the choice to easily share their own health data with their doctors. This technology has the prospective to advance the application of electronic medical record systems and to make simpler the ability for sufferers to share data with their providers.”

Till there is solid study verifying the accuracy of all healthcare apps on the industry, their efficiency will continue to be questioned.

It appears to be, however, that with downloading of health apps set to boom in the next year, customers, health care providers and scientists alike are positive about what they can do for the medical community.