Many Health Apps Don’t Get the Job Done by Laura Nathan-Garner

How to Choose a Better Health App

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From helping you wake up rested to getting couch potatoes ready for a 5K, there really is an app for everything.

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But when it comes to health apps, many don’t get the job done. That’s true of apps for smartphones, iPads, computers and even TVs.

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“Many companies are in such a hurry to sell their app that they don’t conduct a study to see if users will adopt real, lasting change,” says Alexander V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., director of
MD Anderson’s e-Health Technology Program and professor in the Department of Behavioral Science.

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“And, app stores don’t have medical reviewers who make sure health apps are medically sound.”

So, it can take some detective work to find a reliable one. Before you start to download, separate the good from the bad with these tips.

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1. SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.

Think of health apps as tools to complement what you’re doing offline.

So, before downloading an app, figure out what you need to do to achieve your health goals. Then, figure out how an app can and can’t help.

“Set a specific and achievable goal,” says Jermaine McMillan, project director of MD Anderson’s e-Health Technology Program. “Once you choose an app, make sure you understand what it’s intended to do and how you will use it to help reach your goal.”

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2. AVOID APPS THAT PROMISE TOO MUCH.

Beware of apps promising big results — and fast.

Research shows that most people can’t change a behavior overnight or even in a week,” Prokhorov says. “So, an app that promises quick weight loss or quitting smoking for good by the end of the month probably won’t produce the results you want.”

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3. RESEARCH THE DEVELOPERS.

Don’t let attractive graphics or enticing features fool you. “Many questionable health apps are developed by good designers who aren’t experts in behavior change,” Prokhorov says.

Advice? Do some digging. Find the developer’s name in the app store or on the app’s website. Then, research the developer and find out:

Whether they’ve designed other health apps
How long they’ve been developing health apps
Whether they consulted health professionals to develop the app
Whether any reputable hospitals or health organizations endorse the app
No experience, and no consultation with a health organization? That’s a red flag to keep looking.

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4. CHOOSE APPS THAT USE TECHNIQUES YOU’VE HEARD OF.

Does an app use unusual strategies to help improve users’ health? Say, using hypnosis or acupuncture to quit smoking? That, too, may be a red flag.

“Most effective behavior change strategies are based on years of research,” Prokhorov says. “They’re things you’ve probably heard your doctor recommend.”

So, play it safe and stick with apps that use well-known strategies.

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5. SEE WHAT OTHER USERS SAY.

Read reviews in the app store, and do a search online to see what other users think about the app.

And, pay particular attention to readers who’ve used the app for awhile. This feedback may provide insight into whether the app can really help you long-term.

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6. TEST APPS BEFORE COMMITTING.

Even the best app can’t work its magic if you don’t use it as recommended. So, test out several health apps before choosing one and give the one you choose a fair chance.

If an app isn’t easy and convenient to use, you probably won’t use it regularly. And, those healthy changes you’re trying to adopt probably won’t become habit.

Don’t give up if the first few apps don’t do the trick. Test-driving different apps can teach you about your likes and dislikes, so you can find an app — or an offline solution — that works for you.

“The good news is that more health researchers are starting to help design apps,” Prokhorov says. “And that means many great health apps should appear in the next year or two.”

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This article originally appeared in Focused on Health, MD Anderson Cancer Center’s online healthy living newsletter.  For more information, please visit www.mdanderson.org

 

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Daily Aspirin: To Take or Not to Take, That is the Question by Maria Dorfner

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 According to the Archives of Internal Medicine (www.archinternmed.com) a new study urges against routine use of aspirin to prevent cardiovascular problems in otherwise healthy adults.

Yet, in June, 2011, Dr. Keith Souter published a book called, “An Aspirin a Day: The Wonder Drug That Could Save Your Life.”
Dr. Souter referred to a December 2010 study, which proved that taking a small daily dose of aspirin cut overall cancer deaths by at least a fifth. In “An Aspirin A Day”, he examined the results of this and countless other studies which proved that aspirin is indeed a wonder drug which can protect against some of our worst known diseases, setting out how you too can benefit from taking even a small dose daily. He’s not the only one. You’ll hear other physicians touting the benefits of taking a baby aspirin a day.

So, which is it?  It’s confusing to people because they then say the benefits may outweigh the risks. That basically cancels out the urgency against it.

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Image via Wikipedia

Details of Latest Study:  In a six year span, researchers analyzed data from almost 102,000 adults with an average age of 57 in nine studies,who had been randomly assigned to take aspirin.  They took 100 milligrams or less, or a placebo daily. None of the people had cardiovascular problems when the studies started.

Results showed 2,169 cases of coronary heart disease and 40,712 incidents of bleeding.

In that time, deaths related to cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, occurred at essentially the same rate for people who did and did not take aspirin.

Overall, aspirin-takers had a 10 percent lower chance of having a cardiovascular problem (primarily a heart attack or stroke), a number fueled mainly by a 20 percent lower risk for a fatal heart attack.

No differences were found between men and women; older people seemed to benefit more than younger ones.

However, those taking aspirin had a 70 percent higher risk for bleeding problems; the chance of more-serious bleeding was 30 percent greater, especially among younger people.

Bottom Line:    Basically, anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

Related links:

 www.ahrq.gov (search for “aspirin”) andwww.mayoclinic.com (search for “daily aspirin”).

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/daily-aspirin-therapy/HB00073

“A superior doctor prevents sickness; A mediocre doctor attends to impending sickness; An inferior doctor treats sickness.” -Chinese Proverb

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“I believe the entire healthcare system needs to shift their focus from treatment of illness and disease to prevention of it. How can the same providers profit from keeping us healthy?  It’s a paradigm shift that has to start cognitively first. Only then, can we even begin to have healthy discussions about the future of our healthcare system.  We have created an unhealthy system.  Every health professional should be thinking about this question because good health determines Quality of Life. Every life.  That’s WHY we need to think about it.  And when the WHY is strong enough, the HOW will reveal itself.  2012 should be the year this cognitive shift takes place empowering the healthcare consumer.” ~Maria Dorfner