By: Dennis Thompson
Are you managing a chronic health problem, be it obesity or diabetes or heart disease or asthma?
There’s likely an app for that.
Health apps are becoming more and more sophisticated, offering smartphone users help in dealing with chronic ailments, said Dr. David Bates, chief of internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and an internationally renowned expert in patient safety and health care technology.
“It varies quite a lot by app, but some of the apps have been demonstrated to result in benefits,” Bates said during a HealthDay Now interview. “Some of the weight loss apps really do help people lose weight. Similarly, some of the diabetes apps can help you control your [blood] sugar more effectively.”
Unfortunately, it can be hard to figure out which app is best, given the baffling assortment available to the average person.
In 2020 alone, more than 90,000 new health apps became available on the Apple and Google app stores.
“There are actually several hundred thousand on the marketplace, which is just bewildering as a patient,” Bates said. That means many folks with chronic illnesses aren’t taking advantage of these new tools, according to a recent HealthDay/Harris Poll survey.
About 61% of people living with a chronic condition said they use some sort of health app, but only 14% said they are using an app specifically geared towards managing or tracking their specific health problem, the survey found.
One-third of people with a chronic illness said they don’t bother with an app because they don’t feel the need to constantly track their health, the poll results showed. And a quarter of people with chronic conditions said they’re concerned about the privacy and security of medical information they share with the app. About 17% said they just can’t afford health apps, and 14% said they find them too complicated.
Bates’ own research into health app usage uncovered similar trends.
“There’s reasonably widespread use among a variety of age groups, but they’re particularly popular among people who are young and tech savvy,” Bates told HealthDay Now.
Bates pointed to one recent study among people with either language barriers or little education. It found that “everybody wanted to be able to use the apps, but many people struggled with doing even simple tasks, like as a diabetic entering your blood sugar [numbers],” he said.
Privacy concerns also figure into people’s resistance to health apps.
“The privacy issues are a real concern, and the apps are not doing as good a job as they might in terms of protecting our privacy,” Bates said. “That’s something we need to continue to focus on. Much of this kind of data is not that private, but some of it is.”
People in the market for a health app should know that online ratings in the app stores “aren’t necessarily a really good predictor of how good the app is going to be for you,” Bates said.