“Virtually any app that claims it will cure someone of a disease, condition or mental health condition is bogus,” says John Grohol, an online health technology expert, pointing out that the vast majority of available apps have not been scientifically tested. “Developers are just preying on people’s vulnerabilities.”
Satish Misra, a physician and managing editor of the app review website iMedicalApps adds: “They take some therapeutic method that is real — and in some cases experimental — and create a grossly simplified version of that therapy using the iPhone. Who knows? Maybe it works.”
But until testing shows otherwise, “my feeling would be that it doesn’t.”
To be sure, there are many outstanding health apps, particularly those intended for doctors and hospitals, that are helping to revolutionize medical care, according to physicians and others. Among the most well-regarded apps for consumers: Lose It for weight loss, Azumio to measure heart rates, and iTriage to check symptoms and locate the closest hospitals with shortest emergency room wait times.
But consumers have almost no way of distinguishing great high-tech tools from what Prunty called the “snake oil.”
Without government oversight or independent testing of apps, people mainly rely on developers’ advertisements and anonymous online reviews, many of which are positive but some, such as this one, are not: “Shame on Apple for even allowing this piece of crap on here ... It preys on people with health issues.”
When contacted, Apple declined to discuss anything about its apps. The company has issued lengthy guidelines for app developers, which say it will reject apps that crash, have bugs or do not perform as advertised.
A Google spokeswoman also declined to discuss its apps or its rules for developers. Google’s content guidelines also ban sexually explicit material, gratuitous violence or anything that may damage users’ devices.