Are Health Apps Beneficial to Your Health?

Published on Mar 25, 2020
Medically reviewed by Krishan Thiru, MBBS, MHA, FRACGP
female in activewear, holding her mobile phone and looking at her smartwatch to monitor her health, with digital concept overlay

We live in a digital world, and health apps are certainly a part of it. With the proliferation of mobile health (mHealth) apps, the question is, are they all created equal? And, just how beneficial are they to our health?

Can health apps really help?

Globally, there are over 300,000 mHealth apps available, but it’s essential to know that the vast majority of them are not reviewed or regulated by local authorities. In Australia and New Zealand, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and Medsafe don’t review or monitor health apps unless their purpose is to diagnose, cure, prevent, or treat a disease or condition. Apps that are intended for maintaining or encouraging a healthy lifestyle are not regulated and can vary in quality. Some say, that more studies are needed to determine whether mHealth apps genuinely help to improve health.

With that said, mobile apps may be beneficial in helping people to improve healthy behaviours, motivating positive changes to boost well-being, and accessing useful health-related information more readily.

What kinds of health apps are available?

There are many different types of health apps available. These include apps related to:

  • Nutrition. Many apps provide an estimated count of your calories, so you know how much you’re eating.
  • Sleep. Some apps can track and record information, such as how much and how well you slept.
  • Fitness. Various apps can help you track how many steps you take, and/or how far you run or cycle.
  • Stress. These include apps to help calm the mind, improve awareness, and/or meditation exercises.
  • Medication reminders. These can help remind you to take your medications at the right time.
  • Quitting smoking. These apps aim to help smokers quit based on their smoking patterns, triggers, and moods.
  • Living with cancer. These are apps that are designed to help people living with cancer by organising their questions for their specialist, GP, nurse or pharmacist, providing information about a diagnosis, and helping to manage their daily needs.
  • Remote monitoring. These are apps that help you track your health condition and directly share your information with your doctor.

Health apps don’t take the place of your doctor

While health apps may help you keep track of your health and health-related activities, they are not meant to take the place of your doctor. It’s essential to keep up with your in-person healthcare visits. During those visits, share the information from any health apps you use. This can help your doctor work with you to manage your overall health.

How can I find a health app that is right for me?

If you’re thinking about using (or already using) a health app, ask your doctor or pharmacist if he or she has any recommendations.

Other things to consider include:

  • Thinking about your health goals and then learning if there is an app that can help you reach them.
  • Reading app-store and online reviews to see what users are saying. And, submitting your own app reviews to help others.
  • Avoiding health apps that overpromise. If an app sounds too good to be true, it may be.
  • Reading the fine print. Understand how your personal data will be shared. Make sure the app will not sell or share your personal information without your permission.
  • Learning as much as you can about an app’s developers. You can usually find the developer’s name in the app store or on the app’s website. Try to find out if they’ve developed other health apps and if a health organisation or hospital endorses it.
  • Looking for apps that allow for goal setting, send reminders, enable self-monitoring and that offer social support.

Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about a health app or need more information.

References

  • 1. Medsafe New Zealand. Medical Devices. Accessed January 9th, 2020.
  • 2. Australian Government Department of Health. Therapeutic Goods Administration: What is a medical device? Accessed January 9th, 2020.
  • 3. Fleming GA, Petrie JR, Bergenstal RM, et al. Diabetes Digital App Technology: Benefits, Challenges, and Recommendations. A Consensus Report by the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Diabetes Technology Working Group. Diabetes Care. 2020;43:250-260
  • 4. Morawski K, Ghazinouri R, Krumme A, et al. Association of a Smartphone Application With Medication Adherence and Blood Pressure Control The MedISAFE-BP Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2018;178(6):802-809
  • 5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Mobile Medical Applications. Accessed January 23, 2019.
  • 6. Research to Guidance (R2G). mHealth App Economics 2017/2018: Current Status and Future Trends in Mobile Health. Accessed January 29, 2019.
  • 7. Burke LE, Ma J, Azar KM, et al. Current science on consumer use of mobile health for cardiovascular disease prevention: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2015;132(12):1157-1213.
  • 8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Classification of Products as Drugs and Devices & Additional Product Classification Issues: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff. Final Guidance. Accessed February 18, 2019.
  • 9. Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. How Can Digital Tools Help Me Manage My Health Information? Accessed January 23, 2019.
  • 10. Byambasuren O, Sanders S, Beller E, Glasziou P. Prescribable mHealth apps identified from an overview of systematic reviews. npj Digit Med. 2018;1-12.
  • 11. Harvard Health Publishing. Better Health With Smartphone Apps. Accessed January 28, 2019.
  • 12. Choi YK, Demiris G, Lin S-Y, et al. Smartphone applications to support sleep self-management: review and evaluation. J Clin Sleep Med. 2018;14(10):1783-1790.
  • 13. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). ADAA Reviewed Mental Health Apps. Accessed February 4, 2019.
  • 14. Smokefree.gov. Smokefree Apps. Accessed February 4, 2019.
  • 15. CancerCare.org: Mobile Applications (Apps) and Cancer. Accessed February 4, 2019.
  • 16. Cordeiro B, Nathan-Garner L. How to Choose a Good Health App. Accessed January 23, 2019.
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