Afgis: Warning about health apps

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Patients should note some important details when downloading health apps

The market for health apps is booming. Hundreds of thousands of applications for smartphones and tablets that are dedicated to specific health aspects are now available in the app stores. "However, the use of this technology also entails incalculable risks because there are no binding specifications for producers in the production process," warns the German Health Forum Action Forum (afgis) e.V. in a recent press release.

In fact, the health apps have the potential to "increase health literacy, involve the patient in the course of treatment and realize potential savings, for example through telemonitoring", according to the experts at the Peter L. Reichertz Institute for Medical Informatics at the Hannover Medical School (MHH), the ZTG Center for Telematics and Telemedicine GmbH, the afgis and the Initiative for Prevention Partners. Numerous different applications such as the app for first aid emergencies in the event of poisoning or the migraine app for smartphones already offer patients comprehensive assistance. Apps for amateur athletes are also trendy. However, users should make sure of the usefulness and trustworthiness of the apps before downloading, reports the health information system action forum.

Health apps harbor uncertainties According to experts, the problem with health apps is that they are not subject to any binding requirements for manufacture, as long as they are not classified by the manufacturers as medical devices. If the latter is the case, because the apps are advertised by the provider in combination with a measuring device for the detection or therapy of illnesses, for example, they must be reported and subjected to a test procedure by so-called "notified bodies" such as the TÜV, explains Action Forum Health Information System. These apps are recorded by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) and the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI). The risks are also assessed here. However, since most health apps are not classified as a medical device, no corresponding procedure is required. This harbors a certain degree of uncertainty for the users, since there are also black sheep in the market who, for example, are only keen on user data.

Check important details before downloading According to afgis, users should therefore pay attention to or check some details before installing one of the approximately 200,000 health apps currently available. As information, users must necessarily provide the "information about the manufacturer (imprint, authors, timeliness of the data), about the product (area of ​​application, version, use, size, language, functionality, tests and studies carried out, known and corrected faults, system requirements, Costs), data protection, financing (sources) and advertising (principles), the experts emphasize. If these minimum requirements are not met, users can inquire with the provider if in doubt. The study of existing experience reports can also be helpful.

Health apps cannot replace a visit to the doctor.Although the health apps can offer useful help for various diseases, it must be clear to every user that they cannot replace a visit to the doctor, but should only be assessed as a supplement to the existing therapy options . However, the apps often also make work easier for doctors, for example by enabling remote monitoring of the patients and thus making it possible to intervene more quickly in an emergency. It is already foreseeable that significantly more health apps will be available for download in the future. In order to protect users, however, the experts should actually deal more intensively with the question of how manufacturers can be bound by certain rules. Because a transfer of highly sensitive patient data must be avoided in any case and not every user brings the necessary caution here. (fp)

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