Googling your medical concerns has become a popular way to get an idea of what could possibly be causing any ailments you may be suffering from, from back pain to skin discolouration. If you have ever tried to diagnose yourself in this manner, you were probably terrified by the dozens of potential diseases and health issues that your online research had revealed as potential causes for your problems, prompting you to seek out a specialized doctor as soon as possible. In fact, there are now thousands of websites dedicated to helping people self-diagnose, spurring the debate of whether such information is helpful to patients or ultimately harmful. Many of these websites’ diagnoses on non-clinical patient information simply scare people by identifying several mild to serious medical conditions that could be causing their symptoms. Similarly, thousands of mobile apps have also now been created that make it even easier for people to understand their health issues through easy-to-use and interactive programs that are based on a great variety of different health resources, from medical encyclopaedia to live physicians. What should you know about the medical health apps available on the market today before placing your trust in their recommendations?
What medical apps are available today?
There are literally tens of thousands of medical diagnosis websites on the web today, thousands of which are now available in application versions for your mobile phone. Some of these applications are free, while others ask a purchasing price, require you to pay for updates, or ask for payment only if you are referred to a live doctor or nurse. IMS Health, a health-care data collector and researcher, analysed 20,000 different medical health apps in October of 2013 in the Apple iTunes store and found that the quality and functioning of these websites vary dramatically, with five apps dominating 15% of downloads and 50% of apps receiving less than 500 downloads each. Back in June 2013, IMS Health found that these apps tended to be divided by intended audience with ? being marketed to the consumer and ? towards doctors, with the top 4 most common apps falling into categories of healthy living, self-diagnosis, prescription filling, and medication compliance.
How do they work?
The abilities of these apps vary widely. Some apps allow you to simply input your symptoms to issue you a terrifyingly “comprehensive” list of every disease or medical complication that is on record having caused those specific symptoms. Other sites ask you to put in more information about yourself, including your sex, age, weight, previous health issues, familial history, and other data that doctors might commonly ask you during a visit. These sites are arguably more reliable than those that do not incorporate this information, but are still working on a rather limited pool of data. Some doctors and entrepreneurs are getting really excited over apps that use information taken from linked medical monitoring devices, such as those measuring heart rate and blood pressure, along with patient specific information to preliminarily diagnose patients or at least provide important data to doctors who can then remotely diagnose their patients. With the right technology, smart phones can even be turned into electroencephalographic (ECG) machines.
What should you watch out for?
The FDA has been discussing regulating these apps, especially those dedicated to self-diagnosis, and plans to primarily monitor those sites that use accessories to aid in diagnoses. The FDA has backed about a hundred mobile apps in the last decade, forty of which were launched just in the past two years. It is essential that users understand that these apps are not meant to replace their regular doctors or medical examinations. No app can replace the holistic problem solving skills of a practitioner who may, for example, be able to identify your back pain simply as a result of your incorrectly-sized shoes and not because of a bone deformity or bad posture, as many apps might find. These apps should be used as a tool to better understand one’s own medical situation and more closely measure one’s medical status under the supervision of a licensed doctor.
Technology has come leaps and bounds in the last decade, and there is no reason you shouldn’t take full advantage of everything it has to offer. If you find it beneficial to reference medical and medical health apps, just make sure you do not replace your normal health care regime (guided by a doctor) with a mobile medical app.