Medical Experts Debate Pros, Cons of Health Apps for Healthy Users

April 18, 2015 in News

On Tuesday, The BMJ published an article in which two medical experts provide arguments in favor of and against the use of mobile health applications for healthy individuals, the New York Times‘ “Bits” reports.

The article compared two opposing viewpoints regarding mobile health apps (Singer, “Bits,” New York Times, 4/14).

Argument in Favor of Apps

Iltifat Husain, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine and editor-in-chief of the review website, argued in favor of mobile apps, saying they can reduce disease and death rates by encouraging healthy behaviors (Husain/Spence, The BMJ, 4/14).

He said such apps “can help people to correlate personal decisions with health outcomes, and they can help doctors to hold patients accountable for their behavior” (“Bits,” New York Times, 4/14). He noted that researchers have confirmed the accuracy of some popular fitness apps, adding, “There is no current evidence that these fitness devices improve outcomes or exercise compliance; likewise, there is no evidence that they cause harm.”

He wrote, “So yes, healthy people may well benefit from using some health apps, such as those that encourage more physical activity and better diet” (The BMJ, 4/14). However, he recommended that physicians guide their patients in choosing apps and deciding on what health information to track, noting that otherwise, the mobile app industry could “dictat[e] which tools people should use” (“Bits,” New York Times, 4/14).

Argument Against Apps

Meanwhile, physician Des Spence in his argument against mobile apps wrote, “These tens of thousands of health apps are perhaps mostly harmless (and likely useless).”

However, he noted that consumers should be more skeptical of using them as many are “untested and unscientific,” which can “open the door of uncertainty” (The BMJ, 4/14).

He added, “Make no mistake: diagnostic uncertainty ignites extreme anxiety in people” (“Bits,” New York Times, 4/14).

In addition, Spence argued that too much use of technology in health care can lead to “medical harm and over diagnosis” (MacGill, Medical News Today, 4/15).

Spence concluded, “Humanity is wasting its time on monitoring life rather than getting on and living it” (The BMJ, 4/14).

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