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Brits are using healthcare apps without proper checks

As mobile health app acceptance increases, people are taking risks by using them without any advice from their medical professionals, finds survey

Using complex health apps without advice from medical professionals is equivalent to buying a random box of pills with no regulatory approval and hoping for the best, warns Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA).

The warning comes as Brits become more comfortable with using mobile healthcare apps. A survey of 2,000 people, carried out by One Poll for ORCHA, found that 68% of Brits believe healthcare apps should be used in the NHS, but the report warned that problems arise during the selection process for health apps.

It found that none of the people who selected a health app without the assistance and advice of a healthcare professional had checked its clinical credentials prior to using it, and only 28% had given the privacy policy careful consideration before agreeing to it.

Simon Leigh, research director at ORCHA, people were downloading complex apps such as ones to assist those with epilepsy and diabetes – without carrying out sufficient due diligence.

“That’s the equivalent of buying a random box of pills with no MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] approval and swallowing a handful of them, hoping for the best,” he said.

The survey found that 30% of app users who did not seek expert advice had just checked consumer reviews on app stores.

“We’ve proven through academic studies that good consumer reviews are not a safe indicator of the quality of the app. In fact, as a rule, the higher starred the consumer reviews, the less compliant the apps are in terms of the required standards and accreditation. Consumers are putting far too much faith in anecdotal observations by others,” said Leigh.

The latest survey revealed a 60% increase in the number of general practitioners recommending apps to patients in the past 12 months. It also revealed a flattening of app take up, following a steep rise during the Covid-19 pandemic when access to medical professionals was more limited.

It found that 47% now use healthcare apps, which was the same figure the year earlier. But the survey results released in 2021 revealed that 38% used heath apps.

“There will be a range of factors behind this, but we think there are two main drivers – first, the high growth we saw for digital health adoption during Covid-19 continued into much of last year, but as services opened up, a proportion of this demand went away,” said Leigh.

Second, he added, could be that despite a 60% leap year on year in recommendations by GPs, there has been a drop in recommendations from nurses, consultants and social care staff.

Leigh said: “Importantly, as we highlight, in contrast to these numbers, more people want digital health than last year. Some 68% of people we surveyed agreed, or strongly agreed, that to take pressure off our healthcare system, it is vital we all look at new ways to manage our health, including using high-quality health apps.

“This number has grown by almost 10% since last year, representing an additional 6.7 million people who are happy to embrace digital health. When the right tools, training and digital health products are embedded into services, we see really encouraging take-up rates.”

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