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Health Apps - Are They All They're Cracked Up to Be?

By November 28, 2012

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An interesting report recently from the Washington Post, calls into question whether or not health apps are really credible and useful.

What a great question!

We've known since exposure of the first liar on the Internet that anyone can say anything they want to, whether or not it's true. We've examined websites to determine their credibility. Organizations have been developed to vet websites to, hopefully, help us get a better handle on their veracity.

But I had to wonder; how often do any of us pause to take a good look at that app we've just downloaded to our smartphones or tablets to decide whether it is truly reliable, or worth the money we've paid for it?

Of course, there are degrees of importance for us to consider:

An app that is intended to count your steps each day to indicate whether you are getting all the exercise you hope to get may be off by a few steps at the end of the day. The number may not be perfectly accurate, but in the scheme of things, that may not be so important.

But what if it's an app that counts carbs, and it's being used by a person with diabetes? That one needs to be accurate; for without accuracy, it puts that person at risk of eating too many carbs and making him sicker.

Even worse, what about an app that diagnoses or suggests treatment? That could be downright dangerous if it's wrong, and, according to one of my colleagues, Dr. John Grohol, who is quoted in the Washington Post article, not one of those apps is accurate.

Don't think the shysters aren't out there to fool us. The FTC has already shut down at least two apps for making false claims. They were both acne apps, claiming that the flashing, colored lights emitted by their app would clean up someone's skin.

So I've put together some guidelines to help you determine whether a health app is worth downloading, and is credible.

The list varies a little from a similar list for determining the credibility and reliability of a website. The bonus is that many apps have a price tag, so avoiding the bad ones will keep you from making a health or medical mistake, and will save you money, too.

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Agree? Disagree?
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Photo Getty Images / Sean Gallup

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