Health Apps Are 'Untested And Unscientific' Says GP

A GP has suggested that the new wave of health apps are "untested and unscientific" and will serve only to fuel anger and resentment when people become ill.

Writing in the BMJ, Dr Des Spence said apps and other devices "open the door of uncertainty" and could provoke "extreme anxiety" in people.

He said technology is "already abused and overused by doctors for profit".

"The result is medical harm and overdiagnosis. We should be sceptical of embracing more medical technology."

Dr Spence said using such apps could lead people to subscribe to the "unspoken yet widely held view of illness - that there are the deserving sick (with diabetes, lung cancer, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, for example) and the undeserving sick (with breast cancer, leukaemia, and so on)."

"Death and disease is a lottery outside our control. So when the 'undeserving' sick get sick, they feel cheated,"

Offering a different point of view, Dr Iltifat Husain, editor of and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, United States, argued that there was no evidence of anyone coming to harm from using health apps.

He pointed out that research has shown that patients retain little information after discussing weight loss and fitness with their GP, but instead doctors could be pro-active in recommending the best health apps.

He cited weight loss app Lose It! as an effective tool which works as well as or even better than conventional plans.

"This makes intuitive sense because people tend to carry their smartphones with them everywhere they go, and it's much easier to track weight loss and calories in one place on your phone than on pieces of paper," he added.

Dr Husain said that while in the past healthcare technology was the preserve of the wealthy, "smartphones and apps are now within most people's reach, with the potential to make a broad impact on health".

"Health apps on smartphones are here to stay, and some at least have great potential to reduce morbidity and mortality by encouraging healthy behaviour," he continued.

"If we wait for scientific studies to prove the benefit of apps, we're going to get left behind - not only by our patients who are already using them but also by the industry dictating which tools people should use."

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