An App a Day Keeps Bad Health Away

Want to lose weight, diagnose symptoms, chart anxiety or quit smoking? 

There's an app for that.

Want to record how many steps you take, keep track of your blood glucose levels, or know when you need sun protection?

There's an app for that too.

The variety and availability of smartphone applications—or apps—have exploded in recent years as multi-tasking consumers increasingly use their phones to keep up with the latest on news, finance, health and fitness apps.

Five hundred million people will be using mobile health apps by 2015, according to the Global Mobile Health Market Report 2011-2015 released last week.

Apple says its iPhone App Store has more than 350,000 apps, and Android, BlackBerry, Windows, and other smart phones account for tens of thousands more.

With so many apps on the market, it’s no wonder the number of health care related apps has also spiralled.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

With so many apps out there, who can you trust?

You can test your hearing with uHear and learn how to resuscitate someone with PocketCPR. WaveSense’s Diabetes Manager offers a record-keeping system that helps diabetics to track their glucose results, carbohydrate intake and insulin doses.

The AcneApp promises to clear your skin with light-therapy delivered from the phone’s screen. It projects bursts of blue and red light that are believed to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory powers.

The claim, however, has got expert dermatologists rubbing their chins.

It all provides excellent opportunities for some clever programs. It is almost too easy to create an app that aims to help people detect or manage some condition or other – but should programmers play the roll of doctor even in seemingly harmless areas?

Professor Enrico Coiera, director of the University of New South Wales' Centre for Health Informatics, agrees that health apps can be really useful, but not always.

“I guess the question is are they worth the money and are they safe? You're quite right to say some are fantastic and some are really quite dangerous.”

Dangerous Apps

Currently in Australia, apps are unregulated. 

“We don't know what the good applications are and which ones aren't,” says Carol Bennett, CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, an advocacy body representing Australian healthcare consumers.

While the major app stores provide guidelines for developers submitting apps to their stores, they don't test the accuracy of the apps' information.

At the moment the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) are looking into whether apps are making unsubstantiated health claims but has yet to release any guidelines.

With no current certification needed to prove the information is true, important health information can be wrong.

Taking Back Control

Now respected health organisations are taking it upon themselves to regulate the health app world.

The Coeliac Society of Australia released their ingredient list app to ensure consumers got the right advice.

“We were aware that if we didn't do something like this then maybe someone else would, and we wanted the information out there to be correct,” says Penny Dellsperger, a dietician with the society.

Similarly, the Cancer Council Victoria's released its new SunSmart app to provide anyone in Australia with a simple way of knowing when to use sun protection.

“This is just one of the tools in our armour in a sense and it's also reflecting possibly a change in the way people access weather,” says Sue Heward, SunSmart Victoria Manager.

Also the other UV apps on the market mostly concentrated on the best time of day to tan, thereby hijacking the message the Cancer Council wanted to get across, she says.

With increased use of technology, the chances of mistakes also increase, and we don't know right now who will be held responsible for errors.

So, for the time being, users would do well to take good care of themselves, and not depend blindly on their mobile health app.


Emeds Comment

The question is – should we be replacing our healthcare professional with apps?

No Way!

Phone apps are making us lazy and you can't be lazy about your health.

Health apps can be used for motivation and management of certain health conditions.

But whether we like it or not, apps are here to stay so make smart choices when choosing your health apps.

Before purchasing, do some research on the developers. You should be able to find out if they have consulted health professionals, if they have any other health related apps and whether any organisation endorses the app. 

Read reviews by other users to see how effective the app is. If its a bad app, chances are someones going to let cyber space know about it!


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Emeds Top 5 Health Apps

Fitness: Couch to 5k

This is a running training coach that promises to have you off the couch and running five kilometres, without stopping, in nine weeks.

Each workout is 20 to 30 minutes long, not including warming up and cooling down time.

You can listen to music as you run and the application gives audio commands when the walking and running intervals start and stop. 


Diet: myfitnesspal

No doubt many of you have a new year resolution for losing weight and watching your calorie intake. MyFitnessPal’s Calorie & Diet Tracker is like keeping a calorie diary on your iPhone.

It has a large food database and provides you nutritional facts about the food you eat. You add the information about your meals each day, and Calorie Counter keeps track of your calorie intake and the progress you’re making toward your goals.


First Aid: St John Ambulance Australia First Aid

This app could be just what the doctor ordered in an emergency situation. Covering everything from allergic reactions to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), this could be a lifesaver in your phone.

After calling 000, some very succinct advice on your phone could be the difference between actually giving someone the confidence to get involved or not. Generally, not intervening is what makes things worse.


Kids: Kids Checkup

Designed by paediatric experts, KidsCheckup is a simple reference guide application that includes descriptions of medical treatments for problems such as asthma, common childhood orthopedic conditions, muscular dystrophy, childhood cancer, and cystic fibrosis.

Its “What Do I Do” section provides information for symptoms and solutions for conditions such as asthma flare-ups, chest pains, chicken pox, coughs, dental entries, rashes, splinters. 


Womens Health: Period Tracker

The app’s easy to use calendar-style screen is easy to navigate and helps women keep track of when your period is due and when you are ovulating.

Other health-related issues such as weight, menstrual cycle, and emotional/physical well-being are also tracked.

The app sends you menstrual and fertility notifications, and allows you to set up any reminders you like, such as for drinking water, taking your pill, or getting a breast exam. 


Gluten Intolerant: GS1 GoScan

Designed by the Australian Food and grocery Council, GoScan lets you scan a barcode and it will tell you vital nutritional information about the product.

The best part is, it will tell you if it is gluten free, Kosher, Hala or organic.

This app is yet to be released, keeps your eyes peeled for it later this year.