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Questions to ask yourself before downloading your next health app

Digital health apps can be a minefield. Here's some questions to ask yourself to avoid putting yourself at risk.

Check your symptoms. Track your diet. Sleep better. Worry less. Get fit for the beach.

With app stores overwhelmed by products promising a better, healthier life, our phones are increasingly the first port of call for health and exercise guidance.

Little wonder, when the claims sound great and the apps are free.

But by turning to these “transformative” apps over trained specialists, are we putting ourselves at risk?

Can you trust health apps?

It’s worth bearing in mind that many of these products are built for profit, not public good, with little if any evidence to support their claims.

“It is a bit of a wild west when it comes to health-related apps, so it’s really buyer beware,” says Deborah Lupton, a digital health researcher at the University of New South Wales.

“Some of them do have medical expertise, but others are [built by] fly-by-night publishers.

“If you look at the terms and conditions, most of these apps say, ‘For entertainment purposes only’, which is pretty laughable considering they are promoting themselves almost as a medical device.”

So how can you sort the good from the bad?

A good starting point is identifying the developer, says Stoyan Stoyanov, a digital health researcher based in Queensland.

It seems obvious, but an app developed by a reputable source such as a university, public health organisation or institution with a track record is more likely to be based on quality information.

If you can’t find any information about the publisher, or the app is published by a company that could benefit from encouraging a particular product or service, be cautious, Mr Stoyanov says.

For example, you would expect an app made by a reputed skin cancer institute about sun exposure to contain information that can be trusted. But if the same app was made by a cosmetics manufacturer, it may well have an agenda and purpose beyond looking after your skin.

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Posted on: August 28 2019

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