Warning: Mobile medical apps may be hazardous to your health

New mobile applications for health care may not be providing medically accurate information, according to Abdul Shaikh, a program director and behavioral scientist at the National Cancer Institute. 

Meanwhile, it's imperative that federal agencies move quickly to free as much of their health care data and research information as possible to help ensure that new innovative health applications being developed are based on science, Shaikh said, speaking at the Health and Human Services Department’s Health Data Initiative Forum held on June 9. The conference was organized to highlight HHS’ Health Data Initiative activities to make its data easily available to application developers to spur innovation.

Consumers could be hurt if the underlying health data in their mobile application is weak and not supported by research, he said. For example, a recent study that evaluated 47 iPhone applications aimed at helping smokers to reduce their tobacco use found that very few of the applications were evidence-based, Shaikh said.


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The study performed at George Washington University concluded that the iPhone applications for smoking cessation sold in 2009 “rarely adhered to established guidelines.” Very few of the iPhone applications recommended treatments that have been proven effective.

The implication of the study was that by failing to follow scientific guidance on best practices, the iPhone applications may be ineffective in helping consumers.

“We want to focus on science,” Shaikh said. The goal is to make HHS scientific data and research freely available to application developers so that the developers have the most accurate information when creating new and innovative products.

The institute will offer cash prizes for the best application in integrating new technologies into existing systems to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat cancers, Shaikh said. The challenge is named “Using Public Data for Cancer Prevention and Control.”

The institute is offering four prizes of $10,000 each for winners of the contest.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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