Experts warn over use of health apps

KELLY DENNETT
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2014
CHRIS SKELTON
TECHNO LIFE: The head of AUT’s new e-health centre Duncan Babbage.

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It's a hypochondriac's nightmare. And what's worse it comes with its own health warning.

The explosion of medical apps available to download for iPhones and Android has doubled to 100,000 since 2011 and in the next three years it's predicted half of the world's 3.5 billion smartphone users will have one. But experts are warning consumers to use common sense when downloading health apps.

The mobile health trend has become so important Auckland University of Technology has opened a new e-health centre to bring together its existing research. Centre director Duncan Babbage said New Zealand is a world leader when it comes to IT in health and the biggest beneficiaries will be people living in remote rural areas and those with mental illness.

However, in the absence of formal regulation through the Ministry of Health, Babbage said apps should also be treated with a healthy dose of scepticism by consumers.

"There's a lot of health advice out there that isn't evaluated and people need to apply their usual filters. Anyone can make themselves an app and I don't know if the app stores examine the credentials they present themselves as having," he said.

The New Zealand Medical Association doesn't have a formal position on health apps but chairman Mark Peterson said he did not see it as any different to using the internet for medical information.

"It's always a bit fraught because you can get worst case scenarios presented to you," he said. "Conversely you can be falsely reassured, although it tends to be the former. We don't say don't use them but we would say use them carefully in conjunction with your doctor."

Aside from the multitude of fitness apps promising to count calories and show you how to do proper push ups, there's also photography tools to analyse worrisome moles, as well as symptom checkers, pregnancy trackers, allergy forecasters and pain relief apps.

St John Ambulance's new version of its CPR app is proving more popular than its first aid courses with 35,000 downloads in its first month alone. Around 70,000 enrol in a first aid course with the organisation annually.

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- Sunday Star Times

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