Health apps might do more harm than good, GP says

The British Medical Journal has organised a debate on the topic of “Can healthy people benefit from health apps?”, and invited two people.

Iltifat Husain, editor at iMedicalApps.com, and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, North Carolina, USA, argued YES, while Des Spence, a general practitioner from Glasgow, UK argued NO.

Husain argued that healthy people do benefit from health apps, citing studies showing how people who use weight loss apps lose more weight than those who don’t.

For the devices such as FitBit and Jawbone, he says that there is not enough evidence to support either claim, that they’re harmful, or that they’re not.

“There is no current evidence that these fitness devices improve outcomes or exercise compliance; likewise, there is no evidence that they cause harm,” he said.

In his conclusion, he says: “So yes, healthy people may well benefit from using some health apps, such as those that encourage more physical activity and better diet, but doctors need to be proactive about telling the public which metrics matter and which apps they should buy.”

However, on the other side there is Des Spence, saying that health apps do nothing but promote anxiety from self-diagnosis and over-diagnosis, and that the only winners are “Corporate medicine and the drug industry … whose joint commercial imperative is to make us all health neurotics.”

“Most medical research and diagnoses are based on isolated readings taken in medical clinics in symptomatic, older, high risk individuals, by doctors who can interpret results—not by young, asymptomatic, middle class neurotics continuously monitoring their vital signs while they sleep,” he writes, adding the following argument:

“The truth is that these apps and devices are untested and unscientific, and they will open the door of uncertainty. Make no mistake: diagnostic uncertainty ignites extreme anxiety in people. We must reflect on what we might lose here, rather than what we might gain. Will apps simply empower patients to overdiagnosis and anxiety?”

He finishes his argument by saying technology, medicine, and overdiagnosis are the new riders of the Apocalypse.

“Humanity is wasting its time on monitoring life rather than getting on and living it.”