Members of the American Osteopathic Association’s (AOA) House of Delegates have a message for patients, “Beware of health apps!” During the AOA’s annual meeting in Chicago, delegates adopted a resolution to educate patients about the dangers of relying solely on medical websites or mobile apps, rather than the advice of a physician, to self-diagnose illness or injury.
Although mobile applications and system-checker websites, such as WebMD, can help patients better understand their health and make healthy choices, they are a poor substitute for a physician visit.
“Physicians want to see patients educating themselves and taking control of their health and when used correctly these medical websites and apps are a great tool,” says Michael R. Brown, DO, an AOA board-certified family physician in Kearney, Missouri. “However, the AOA wants to make sure patients realize that these sites and apps, no matter how convenient, cannot replace the patient-physician relationship.”
The resolution is a response to the growing number of patients who rely on the internet to research medical conditions. In a press release, the association referenced a September 2013 survey released by Makovsky Health and Kelton, which found that the average American spends about 52 hours each year on the internet researching health information. Perhaps a happy compromise would be a physician consultation via telemedicine technology, which allows patients to access the knowledge and experience of a physician in a way that is just as convenient as a medical website or mobile application.
The number of telemedicine encounters is also growing. In 2013, nearly 900,000 American households used video conferencing technology to facilitate a consultation with a healthcare professional, and experts expect that number will jump to 22.6 million in 2018.