Mobile phone health applications: how good are they in reality?

Have you used a mobile application to control or improve your health?

Applications that claim to treat all starting from pimples to depression treatment to the anxiety a lot of us harbour concerning our health.

But how reliable are they, and what’s the evidence of their efficiency?

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Scientist Carol Maher, a researcher in smartphone health applications from the University of South Australia, tells there are several basic principles people can follow when selecting which health application to use.

Health applications that use your mobile phone to record or monitor progress over time are most likely the least worrisome, she tells.

These applications can be useful as they make it easy to communicate issues with your doctor; often they let you to record photos or data you can take to an appointment for example.

However you should be wary of an application if it’s claiming to use the mobile phone as a medical instrument, Maher tells.

“It’s one thing if it’s equipment that plugs into the smartphone like there now are several approved fruit-sugar monitors. Those devices, so long as they’re respectable, are fine,” she told.

There is also an application with a plug-in device that can produce a simple ECG or heart beat trace that is yet detailed enough to diagnose improper heart rhythms, for example.

But a few years ago, thousands of copies of applications that claimed to erase pimples using the light of a smartphone were sold, afore they were pulled from shops.

Other applications have claimed to heal seasonal affective disorder by subjecting the user to the mobile phone’s flashlight, despite weal evidence a phone’s flashlight can provide efficient treatment.

“It’s applications like that, that in common have no evidence they operate,” Professor Maher said.

What about other kinds of applications? We took a look at four of the most general varieties on application stores.

Choosing a proper mental health application

Pieces of Advice from Black Dog University:

See if the applications or at least the canon it uses is based on proof

Be aware of high application rating. It doesn’t necessarily mean good quality.

Look at who created the application and consider whether they have a history or reputation in physical health.

Check if the application has proper privacy regulations.

That’s a positive thing because it’s pulled down hurdles that might once have prevented people from accessing useful services, tells David Bakker, a researcher and application developer from Monash Institute.

“These applications offer some things people wouldn’t be able to have otherwise, because they live in a place where they can’t easily see a doctor, or they have life conditions where they can’t visit a psychologist,” he told.

While some trials propose they can be helpful, there’s not a solid body of evidence around their efficiency as the area is too new.

Mr Bakker tells that a good approach is to look for applications that are based on vindicated treatment techniques (for example, cognitive behavioural therapy) and supported by psychologists or estimable sources (mental health researchers).

Skin checks are very important for Australians – we have almost the highest prevalence of skin cancer on the planet.

Living in the bronzed country means a lot of Australians are especially careful of taking care of their dermis, and there are applications can help with this.

The most general purport to analyze photos of your birthmarks and skin lesions to find out if they have a risk to your health or might be a melanoma.

A 2014 researches of the efficiency of a melanoma-detecting mobile application found the computer could detect skin cancer 73 per cent of the time while an average dermatologist have 88 per cent rate of success.

The application could work out people which didn’t have a melanoma 83 percent of the time while experts do it 97 percent of the time.

A year before, another research looking at four mobile phone apps found three of them falsely classified up to 30 percent of melanomas as “unharmful”.

Professor Maher claims something as severe as a possible melanoma needs a doctor’s visit.

“They can be quite hazardous because it can be very imprecise, compared with a medic who’s a expert with special equipment,” she said.


A person looks at his smartphone while in bed

What can an application tell you regarding your sleep? (Joint Base San Antonio: Courtesy photography)

Can’t sleep? You might have turned to your smartphone for help. Sleep applications often require you to put your phone under the pillow or bedsheet, where they record how much you toss and turn to generate a measure of the time and quality of your sleep.

But these applications aren’t always precise, according to Doctor Thuong Hoang from the Institute of Melbourne.

That’s because of the limited information these mobile applications can record. At best, they’re relying on the smartphone’s movement detectors or its microphone (to record snoring, which can be heard during deep sleeping stage), Dr Hoang tells.

A clinical sleep research (polysomnography) on the other side, can also record your brain waves, eye moves, heartbeat, muscle tension and air flow, granting a more sophisticated pattern of your sleep.

Sleep applications can provide data that can be useful if it’s supplemented with the tip of a health scecialist though, Dr Hoang tells.

But most applications don’t give the raw data about your rest rather, they take information like how long you’ve been motionless and how much you walked and offer a resume based on that data.

A better sleep application would offer information more transparently; giving information on your movement while the night but telling what it’s concluding from that, Dr Hoang tells.

Sport and diet

A close-up of a man lacing up his joggers

Applications might motivate you to train and lose weight, some study suggests (Pexels:

Evidence for the efficiency of applications to help people get fit and lose mass is mixed. In one research, overweight people using a phone app were more engaged, and lost a bit more weight, than those using a site or paper notebook to record their diet and exercise.

Professor Maher claims that part of the problem is that institutes will often produce applications that are data -based and tested, but there are no liabilities on firms to do the same thing.

“A lot of the applications people will more general know about, that are top-ranked in the application stores, they tend to go from the commercial segment where their aim is just downloads and consumers, and they’re not really worried about whether it’s vindicated to work,” she told.

“It would be rally cool if the reports could be more tailored and detailed to the exact activity or place that the person is in, or the precise weather conditions,” she told.