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Can healthy people benefit from health apps?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1887 (Published 14 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1887

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This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Iltifat Husain, editor, iMedicalApps.com, and assistant professor of emergency medicine, Wake Forest School of Medicine, North Carolina, USA,
  2. Des Spence, general practitioner, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to: I Husain ihusain{at}wakehealth.edu, D Spence destwo{at}yahoo.co.uk

Some apps have the potential to encourage healthier habits and are accessible to most people, writes Iltifat Husain, but Des Spence notes the lack of any evidence of effectiveness and the potential for encouraging unnecessary anxiety

Yes—Iltifat Husain

A health app is a piece of smartphone software that purports to offer the user some health benefit. Many of these apps are aimed at people with diagnoses; for example, they teach the correct use of an asthma inhaler or collect blood pressure results by syncing wirelessly with a blood pressure monitor. But many are aimed at people with no diagnosis: for example, apps that allow users to track their calorie intake and exercise, or even their sleep patterns.

Apps have health benefits

Discussions on weight loss and increasing fitness take time in primary care, and ample evidence has shown that patients retain little of the education doctors provide at clinic visits.1 Instead, primary caregivers can recommend health apps to deliver education and behaviour change techniques. We have already known for a few years that adherence to Lose It, a popular app based weight loss plan, works just as well as or even better than paper based or website based weight loss plans.2 This makes intuitive sense because people tend to carry their smartphones with them everywhere they go, and it’s much easier to track weight loss and calories in one place on your phone than on pieces of paper.

Also, we have known for several years that mobile based weight loss programmes work well. Two recent randomised trials showed that mobile strategies that make use of apps on personal digital assistants (PDAs) increased compliance and led to better patient outcomes than traditional programmes. In one study the participants in the mobile group lost a mean 3.9 kg more than the standard group at each …

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