Are Health Apps Electronic Snake Oil?

What's the Latest Development?

How effective can a smartphone app really be at improving your health? That depends, but some app producers are making claims so outlandish that regulators say a stronger check is needed against these modern-day sellers of snake oil. "Virtually any app that claims it will cure someone of a disease, condition or mental health condition is bogus," says John Grohol, an expert in online health technology, pointing out that the vast majority of apps have not been scientifically tested. "Developers are just preying on people’s vulnerabilities."

What's the Big Idea?

The claims made by exploitative apps range from curing acne with different colored lights to augmenting women's breast size by listening to the sound of a crying baby. While the FDA is at work writing health app regulations, some private organizations, like Misra’s iMedicalApps and Happtique, evaluate medical apps for safety and effectiveness. Professionals say there are a host of very helpful apps, such as those intended for doctors and hospitals, that are helping to revolutionize medical care: Lose It measures weight loss, Azumio measures heart rates and iTriage locates hospitals with the shortest emergency room wait times.

Photo credit:

Related Articles

A controversial theory claims past, present, and future exist at the same time

Our experience of time may be blinding us to its true nature, say scientists.

Back to the Future.
Surprising Science
  • Time may not be passing at all, says the Block Universe Theory.
  • Time travel may be possible.
  • Your perception of time is likely relative to you and limited.
Keep reading Show less

Six disastrous encounters with the world’s most hostile uncontacted tribe

From questionable shipwrecks to outright attacks, they clearly don't want to be bothered.

Culture & Religion
  • Many have tried to contact the Sentinelese, to write about them, or otherwise.
  • But the inhabitants of the 23 square mile island in the Bay of Bengal don't want anything to do with the outside world.
  • Their numbers are unknown, but either 40 or 500 remain.
Keep reading Show less