Do they really work?

If you’re like most people, you want to improve your health in some way. This could be exercising more, eating better or learning more about a health condition. A tool that you could use to accomplish this is one of the thousands of health apps available. So, how do you determine a good one from a bad one? What are some key things that you should be looking for when making a selection?


0729 Health Apps TNBy keeping track of the food you eat, your body measurements or the amount you exercise, you can more easily reach your health goals. Many people are use health apps to help them do this. With the thousands of different medical and health apps to choose from, it can seem daunting to find one that works best for you. This is because not all health apps are high-quality, useful or safe. Most developers don’t conduct studies to determine if their app actually results in users changing or improving their behavior. Also, app stores, like iTunes and Goggle Play, don’t have medical reviewers to look at each app and make sure they’re medically sound. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for approving medical devices, apps that allow a smartphone to become a medical device fall into a grey area. The FDA has started issuing guidelines, but compliance is voluntary. So, this means that regulation of medical apps is currently a slow process.

Unfortunately, this lack of regulation means it takes extra research by the user to find out if an app is a good one. It’s highly unlikely that a smartphone app using the in-built microphone and camera and analysis by a general algorithm can match the diagnostic capabilities of specialized medical equipment that is explained by professionals. These types of apps lack scientific evidence, which makes their therapeutic quality questionable. Another concern is that celebrities or obscure bodies often endorse apps. However, this shouldn’t convey confidence because they are usually paid for their endorsement. So, how do you select the best health app for you?

The first step in picking an app is to think about what kind of assistance would help you get to your health goals. Don’t assume that a health app will replace what you’re already doing. It’s only a tool that should be used to complement your current routine. It’s important to have a specific goal in mind, like distance, pace, consistency or strength, and find an app that meets all of your needs. Remember that your goals should be challenging, but not out of reach. If your goals are too ambitious, you’ll become discouraged when you don’t meet them as planned and less likely to continue on your path to wellness. Once you decide what you want from your app, go to the app store and set a time limit for how long you’ll look at apps before deciding on one.

When assessing apps, there are several things you should be checking for. Beware of apps that promise big results in a short time period. Most people aren’t quick to change unhealthy behaviors. So, good apps should encourage long-term lifestyle changes. Google Play and iTunes provide the features for each app and allow you to see screenshots of what it looks like. This can be useful in helping you decide whether what the app offers is relevant to your needs. A word of caution is to not let attractive graphics or enticing features fool you. Since some health apps make false, exaggerated or unproven claims, you need to look for those backed by scientific evidence supporting. Also, choosing apps that use evidence-based strategies that are actually proven to change an unhealthy behavior, such as self-monitoring, goal setting, cues or push notifications, social support and rewards. It’s a good idea to research the developer to see if they have designed other health apps, how long they’ve been developing health apps, whether they consulted health professionals to during the development process and whether any reputable hospitals or health organizations endorse the app. In addition to verifying the developer’s background, make sure to read the terms of use instead of automatically clicking “I agree.” This is important because it should tell you how your health data is protected. If there are no terms of use, you have no idea how your private information is being used. Another helpful thing to check is the reviews in the app store and do a search online to see what other users are saying about the app. Key reviews to look for those that are from people who have been using the app awhile. It’s important to keep in mind that even if the app is highly ranked, it may not be useful for you because it might not fulfill your needs. If you’re looking for an app that has classes, check which types are available. If the app doesn’t offer the classes you want to enroll in, then check it off your list. An essential component of classes is the flexibility of class schedule. A good fitness app will allow you to attend your preferred class anytime you like. Also, find out if there is a fee and how much it’ll be before you download the app. Check into the backgrounds of those running the classes to makes sure they are actual fitness experts and know what they’re doing. There’s no question that doing your own research is key, but a good starting point could be talking to your family and friends to find out which health app they are using. Also, several studies have found that people are more likely to increase physical activity when sharing with friends, family and colleagues, especially when compared to a community of strangers. So, the ability for apps to set up challenges between you and others in your group can add an important dimension when making a decision on which app to buy. If you still aren’t sure talk with a fitness expert on what they recommend for your body type and current physical health status.

It can be helpful to test out several health apps before choosing one. It’s also important to give the one you choose a fair chance. Keep in mind if an app isn’t easy and convenient to use, you probably won’t use it often. The best apps have no or very few banner ads or commercials and run smoothly most of the time. Also, the ability to give feedback in real time is the mark of a good app. One type of this feedback that most people are accustomed to are audio cues that provide pace and distance or guide you through a workout. One of the more challenging problems with exercise is remembering or staying motivated to do it. Since most apps allow you to set reminders, it’ll help you stay on top of your exercise regimen. Also, find an app that allows you to set goals and monitor your progress. A good way to start is with an app that will teach you the basic techniques. Once you’ve made it through the introductory programs, or if you are interested in adding some variety, there are apps designed to bring your routine to the next level. After you’ve tried out several apps for a period of time, assess your results and experience. The app should provide you with the results you want and a great experience.

In addition to all of the health apps available, there are many apps that are starting go even further because they can share the data that they collect directly with your doctor. Typically, this happens automatically and almost in real time. These apps are called dual-facing apps. One company, Information Medical Statistics (IMS) Health, is the largest vendor of US physician prescribing data and it’s stepping up to help doctors prescribe mobile apps to patients. The company has created an app-scoring system that creates a composite score based off of customer ratings, download volume, functional review, prescribing patterns and engagement metrics. The program is called Appscript and has a free version that lists over 100 apps. Doctors sign up for Appscript and once they are registered, they can search apps by disease or patient condition. After they find a suitable app, they can email an electronic prescription to a patient. Then, the patient can login and download the app. Another program, RxUniverse, has been created by the Mount Sinai Health System and offers a list of safe and valuable health apps for every specialty. Similarly to Appscript, doctors can determine the best apps to prescribe and send them directly to their patients. As the FDA finds a way to regulate health apps and insurance company reimbursements catch up, you can expect to see more prescription-only apps for managing chronic diseases. Currently, if you’re looking for a source to check whether or not an app has been validated by a clinical study, go to While many apps contain sound medical information, no app can substitute for a trusted doctor-patient relationship. The best apps will enhance communication between doctors and patient, educate patients about their conditions and empower patients to become more involved in their healthcare. An app doesn’t mean you have a doctor in your pocket, so if you have a health concern, you should schedule an appointment to see your doctor.

A health app should solve a problem, whether it is teaching you about a disease, allows you to track your health data, facilitates communication with your doctor or helps you build a supportive community. The essential thing to evaluate is if the app is serving your needs. If it’s not useful, just delete it. The only caveat is if it’s an app your doctor has prescribed. If the app isn’t working for you, talk with your doctor about your concerns before you delete it. By doing your research, you’ll have a value resource to help you become and stay healthy.