Reproductive apps lack review, professional validation assessment

When it comes to female reproductive health tracking apps few have been developed, assessed or come recommended by health experts, according to research recently published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. Over one-third of available apps also lack consumer review, according to the study.

"The biggest problem seems to be the ability to distinguish high-quality [accurate] apps from the lower quality apps that provide misinformation, such as incorrect predictions e.g.. for ovulation," researcher Michelle Moglia tells FierceMobileHealthcare in an email interview. Moglia and Paula Castaño, M.D., both in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, conducted the study on the fertility and reproductive app market space.

The report states improved labeling, categorization and descriptions of such apps would help consumers seeking such software tools. "Formal evaluation of usability and quality is needed," states the report.

The insight comes amidst a flurry of data regarding mHealth app verification and validation. For instance, one reviewing body, HealthTap, says the deluge of apps, overall, is confusing users, and both doctors and consumers would like to know which apps peers recommend. The potential harm of unvetted apps demands attention notes a recent JAMA article. "There are tons and tons of apps and very little in the way of guidance for physicians or consumers on how to separate the wheat from the chaff," Aaron S. Kesselheim, M.D., an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, told JAMA.

Moglia says while there are sufficient numbers of reproductive apps, the apps also should offer users greater insight on how to properly use the software, as well as a better understanding of the menstrual cycle and ovulation overall. This, she says, would help women determine if the apps were providing accurate information.

Right now, Moglia says, women and girls must know their bodies well enough to properly use the apps.

"I think reproductive health professionals need to make time to review them. We are the ones with the medical knowledge and training who can figure out which apps are accurate and not. We also can draw from the experiences that our clients share with us when they use these apps," she says, noting her belief the apps are already being widely used.

The problem, she says, is whether women are using the right apps.

"I assume there are many women and girls using apps that are inaccurate and that they would really benefit from this research," Moglia says. "I also think it would help app developers create apps that are more accurate and improve on their current product."

For more information:
- read the research abstract
- check out the poster on findings (.pdf)

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