Many smart­phone health apps don’t flag dan­ger, says re­view

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

NEW YORK: Don’t count on smart­phone health apps in an emer­gency: A re­view shows many don’t warn when you’re in dan­ger. The study pub­lished Mon­day in the jour­nal Health Af­fairs found prob­lems even with apps con­sid­ered to be among the high­est-qual­ity of­fer­ings on the mar­ket.

There’s been a pro­lif­er­a­tion of health apps for mo­bile phones. Ac­cord­ing to the IMS In­sti­tute for Health­care In­for­mat­ics, there are more than 165,000 health apps out there. “The state of health apps is even worse than we thought,” said Dr. James Madara, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, who was not in­volved in the study.

This wasn’t a sur­vey of step-count­ing fit­ness apps. The re­search team re­viewed 137 apps de­signed for pa­tients with se­ri­ous on­go­ing health prob­lems, in­clud­ing asthma, can­cer, di­a­betes, heart dis­ease, and de­pres­sion.

The health apps, for ex­am­ple, help those with di­a­betes track and record ev­ery blood su­gar read­ing and in­sulin in­jec­tion. One in­vites users to photograph their moles, and of­fers anal­y­sis on whether they are chang­ing in a way that sig­nals skin can­cer.

The study sug­gests that, though some apps are good, there are prob­lems. Per­haps most con­cern­ing was what hap­pened when doc­tor re­view­ers en­tered in­for­ma­tion that should have drawn warn­ings from the app - like se­lect­ing “yes” when the app asked if the user was feel­ing sui­ci­dal, or en­ter­ing ex­tremely ab­nor­mal lev­els for blood su­gar lev­els.

Only 28 of 121 apps re­sponded ap­pro­pri­ately to such red-flag in­for­ma­tion, re­searchers said. Health apps “should have some com­mon-sense stan­dards” said lead au­thor Dr. Karan­deep Singh, a Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan in­ternist. “The vast ma­jor­ity of apps do not have any kind of re­sponse.” An­other is­sue is the safe­guard­ing of med­i­cal pri­vacy. While pa­tients com­monly en­ter health in­for­ma­tion into apps, a lot of the in­for­ma­tion is shared through in­se­cure meth­ods like text mes­sage or email­ing, the re­searchers said.

The re­viewed apps came from Ap­ple iTunes and Google Play app stores most of them free. Each app was re­viewed by a doc­tor and a tech ex­pert. The re­searchers named most of the apps but didn’t pub­lish their re­views. In­stead, they shared them with the app com­pa­nies. Singh said they were in­ter­ested in “iden­ti­fy­ing gaps that need to be filled” in­stead of nam­ing win­ners and losers. Over­all, the in­dus­try needs to do more work to im­prove safety and pri­vacy, he said.

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