Could The Rise of New Medical Apps Do More Harm Than Good?

Lots of medical apps were presented at this year's CES. While the combination of diagnosis apps and accredited physicians could reduce visits to the doctor, apps that don't have doctors could present a public health hazard.


As technology advances, more users take to the internet to avail of services that were traditionally offline. Indeed, over the last year we’ve seen an increase in companies investing in, and developing for, the medical field. However, despite growth, the efficacy and usefulness of medical apps is being called into question.

Kiera Butler reports for Mother Jones:

According to the consulting firm research2guidance, there are 100,000 mobile health apps on the market, double the number available two and a half years ago. The industry is worth some $4 billion today, and analysts predict that it will reach $26.5 billion by 2017.

Butler also notes that the medical industry is currently facing a shortfall of more than 8,200 primary care physicians, so it seems like a great idea to use apps to bridge the gap between patient and medical advice.

But in a largely unregulated market “[A] number of recent studies have identified medical apps that failed to measure up,” Butler writes. She cites a rheumatology app from Pfizer that was recalled for inaccuracy, and a blood-glucose tracker that sent almost 60 diabetics to the hospital after they overdosed on insulin.

Still, according to NPR, this year’s CES has been awash with medical apps. There are nearly 300 “Health and biotech” exhibitors this year, a 35 percent increase compared to last year’s show. “In under five years, if we want, we’ll be able to measure pretty much every aspect of clinically useful physiology from our home,” Malay Gandhi, managing director at Rock Health, told NPR.

While the desire to diagnose problems at home to avoid a trip to the doctor is growing, it’s possible that the technology just hasn’t caught up. If apps that don’t involve a doctor are getting it wrong, users could either leave genuine symptoms untreated, or further burden the health care system with unnecessary visits to health care centers.

By combining diagnosis apps with accredited physicians, technology could cut down on doctors visits. This could ultimately allow for a greater level of care, while freeing up more time for doctors and patients alike. Combine these advances with some medical big data, and then the healthcare industry could be truly revolutionized.shutterstock_183488225