Harvard Health Letter

Some computer downloads for better health should be avoided

Approach these phone, tablet, or computer programs with caution if they make big promises.

Of the countless applications (apps) available for your computer tablet and smartphone, there are an estimated 40,000 health-related apps for consumers and physicians. But how do you know if these apps are safe and accurate? "You don't," says Dr. Nathan Eagle, a mobile health technology expert and adjunct assistant professor at Harvard School of Public Health. "While most mobile apps are vetted by the app store to ensure they aren't compromising the user's privacy, there is very little formal vetting to certify the app can do what it claims it can do beyond basic user reviews."

Mobile health apps

Health-related apps are part of a revolution in health care known as mobile health, or mhealth. It's a simple concept: mobile devices, particularly phones, are with people constantly and connected to the Internet. One of the "anytime, anywhere" services a mobile device can provide is health information. That includes information for the user from the Internet, information from the user's doctor to the user (messages, or access to the user's medical record), and information from the user to his or her doctor (like today's weight and blood pressure).

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