Are Smartphone Health Apps Safe?

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) – Many of us have health questions, but don’t have the time to go to see a doctor.

A large number of apps are now available for smartphones to provide all kinds of medical monitoring.

There are concerns, however, about how these apps are regulated.

But Meghan Cooper finds this approach helpful, particularly when it comes to her young daughter who needs constant monitoring. “She has a condition called SVT. I need to be able to check her heart rate on a regular basis so I’m able to do that with the camera and the flash.”

In this case, Meghan’s phone is more of a standby stethoscope. She also uses an app to track her caloric intake as she tries to lose weight. Her phone can also monitor her fitness routine.

There are now more than 13,000 health-related apps available on the consumer market.

That’s just the start, according to Brian Dolan of mobilehealthnews.com in Cambridge. “There’s an additional 5,000-6,000 apps for physicians, nurses, medical students, really medical professionals.”

Many of the apps will interact directly with other devices, such as a Wi-Fi enabled scale. “It actually sends your weight, your BMI, body mass index, as well as your body fat percentage,” explained Dolan.

There’s even a high tech glucose meter that plugs into an iPhone. “It’s very easy for you to send those charts to your care provider, your family friends, and others that are helping you manage your condition,” said Dolan.

Another app monitors blood pressure. It comes with an inflatable cuff.

The Food and Drug Administration is working on guidelines that will regulate certain health apps. This is a similar approach to the one taken with medical devices.

The federal government is also watching to make sure no outlandish claims are being made by these apps.

This has happened, according to Dolan. “Last year, the Federal Trade Commission actually removed a handful of apps from Apple’s app store that claimed to help users cure their acne just by shining a blue light on their face using the iPhone screen.”

Consumers like Meghan find these apps very convenient. “I don’t have to carry around extra things like a stethoscope or a calorie counter, or a pedometer.”

Experts say patients should not hesitate to contact a qualified health professional if they have a serious situation.

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