Who's vetting health apps?

With millions of health apps on the market, patients are looking for ways to separate the useful from the merely decorative. 

And a variety of popular websites and publications, like About.com and PCWorld, increasingly are providing that guidance, reviewing healthcare apps right alongside apps for food, music and entertainment. So the question arises: Who will decide which health apps are best? It may be a tossup between physicians and online reviewers. We found a host of sites reviewing and in some cases, reviling, healthcare apps--and telling consumers which are their best bang for the buck.

Some sites, like About.com, seem to offer solid guidance, such as which apps can help patients manage their food allergies. The reviews are from users, not medical experts, but seem to be thoughtful and detailed. Other sites, like iPhone Health Apps, are nothing more than aggregation sites with press releases turned into reviews.

One unexpected gem is iMedicalApps. It's managed and written by physicians and medical students, with reviews of hundreds of health-related apps. The creators seem to have a handle on the explosion of such apps, having just bumped up their usual "Top 10" health apps to a "Top 20."

Heck, we've even thrown our own proverbial hat into the ring with reviews of helpful (and free) apps for healthcare professionals, like this one published last August for the Google Android. We researched our own information and solicited advice from app developers to determine the entrants on our list (although ours is merely a list of helpful apps, and not a list of top apps).

While the latter two examples focus on apps written for clinicians and not patients, often the most useful apps will apply to both, but it's by no means a full overlap. For providers looking to guide their patients toward useful, clinically appropriate apps, the solution may well be to: 

1) Find a review site you like and recommend that to patients;

2) Create your own "Top 10" list, or;

3) Print a health apps reference guide showing patients how to vet apps for themselves. For example, About.com has a short list of questions its reviewers must answer before their review will be published. Users must specify which features work well, which don't, and which are just plain missing. It's not a scientifically valid process by any means, but it's better than patients reading a dressed-up PR rehash. - Sara