Health care apps: a whole new world. Separating the wheat from the chaff?

10 Mar
Carme Carrion
Carme Carrion

Not too long ago, our grandparents, and even our parents, would be given closed envelopes at the practitioner’s, with the results of medical tests or reports that one healthcare professional would send to another one. Patients were mere couriers of the information regarding their very own health. Surely, more than one would not “respect the rules” and open the envelope, to read what actually belonged to them.

Things are very different now. The democratisation of society; the better education of citizens, at all levels; the growing concern about all issues regarding our health, be it physical, mental, emotional or social, or the fact that information flows fast, have occurred in parallel to the great technological revolution, which has dramatically changed many aspects of our everyday life. And amidst this change of paradigm, apps have appeared.

There is an app for each aspect of our daily life, and instead of helping make it easier, it ends up gets more complicated. Health is no exception, obviously. There are said to be more than 100,000 health apps now, of which less than 20% are addressed to the management of specific diseases, such as diabetes or depression. The rest of apps are included in what is called wellbeing apps, which promote healthy lifestyle habits.

Avaluació mHealth Carme Carrion

Within this new situation some questions are bound to arise: Will apps change the way we interact with our health and the healthcare system? Which is the best app to treat a particular disease? Are all apps appropriate for any kind of person? Do they add value to everyday practice? Are they effective? Will there be a day when healthcare professionals would prescribe the use of an app, along with a drug or a diet?

So far, there is no clear answer to these questions. It is widely accepted that the technological aspects -data safety or interoperability- should be validated. But what about validation of their contents? Is there some kind of scientific evidence behind the recommendations made by the apps? How should we validate their efficacy and cost-effectiveness?

In the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the attendants of a conference on the role of apps in lifestyle changes, most of them with a technological background, concluded that a renowned institution was needed to assess or validate the current bubble of health apps; this should be done, however, without thwarting innovation. It seems now that the concern on separating the wheat from the chaff is becoming obvious even to developers.

Digital Health & Wellness Summit

Digital Health & Wellness Summit - MWC - Picture of @EdwinMermans

Post written by Carme Carrion (@Carme Carrion).

A brief about digital health topics during the Mobile World Congress, here.