Study: Smartphone fertility apps boast little accuracy, validity


Women aiming to get pregnant should not bank on smartphone apps for help, according to researchers who say most don't use evidence-based methodology.

In fact, according to a study set to be published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, a good number publicly state they shouldn’t be used to avoid pregnancy, either. The study evaluated 40 apps for accuracy; 30 provided fertility predictions and 10 did not. Only six recorded perfect scores for accuracy.

“The effectiveness of fertility awareness based methods [FABMs] depends on women observing and recording fertility biomarkers and following evidence-based guidelines” lead author Marguerite Duane, an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine and executive director of Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS), said in an announcement. "Apps offer a convenient way to track fertility biomarkers, but only some employ evidence-based FABMs."

That was a big surprise for researchers, Alison Contreras, who also worked on the study, shared in an email with FierceMobileHealthcare.

“This was surprising as this would be a great service to women and shows that the field is still wide open in terms of providing a quality product," Contreras said. "It also was surprising how many of the more popular apps did not follow evidence based methods and are basically doing research on women as they use the data they capture to hone their algorithms. These apps have the potential to use big data to discover more accurate algorithms, but these app developers should be more transparent that they are effectively still doing research."

Prior to the study FACTS published a  review of the highest quality research supporting the use of FABMS.

Despite the dismal validity findings, Contreras believes there is great promise for apps in tracking fertility and health.

“Traditionally women using these methods of tracking their fertility have relied on paper charts," she said. "Through technology they could have their doctor connected to their electronic chart and even possibly be alerted to real time changes in her health. FABMs offer a whole host of health benefits apart from being able to plan your family naturally and without artificial hormones."

For more information:
- read the Georgetown University announcement