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The proliferation of health related apps – more than 3 million available so far, with 200 new ones being created daily - has prompted a warning that the app jungle is almost impossible for consumers to negotiate safely. Moreover, many app products are ineffective or inaccurate, thus exposing users to major health complications as well as posing a privacy risk through personal data being hacked or misused.

According to the Health Informatics Society of Australia, the peak body for the digital health community, the huge number of apps is confusing for consumers who often find it hard to decide which apps are evidence based. An app store search for diabetes apps delivers a plethora of choices that leaves most potential users uncertain and possibly feeling negative about the value of any apps in the self-management of their disease.

The head of the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre, a government-universities collaboration, said the huge range meant a GP or clinician “couldn’t possibly keep track of everything that’s coming out.” A recent report in The Sydney Morning Herald cited research showing that doctors were recommending apps sparingly because of a lack of knowledge about their effectiveness.

Unlike medicines and medical devices, TGA approval for apps is not mandated, with apps only needing to comply with app store privacy and content regulations. Data sharing, not uncommon in the app world, is seen as a major risk, with personal health information being amongst the most sensitive that people have.

One attempt to guide GPs through this maze is the Australian Digital Health guide. As previously reported in GPSpeak the North Coast Primary Health Network will facilitate North Coast GPs' access to the guide in its development phase.