Smartphone apps are a dime a dozen—and the proliferation of smartphone apps in a “Wild West” information economy means users must be careful to make sure apps are trustworthy. This is especially important for educational healthcare apps, which patients and healthcare professionals may use to learn about different conditions or aspects of healthcare.
No governing body regulates the creation or distribution of healthcare apps. Users must vet apps themselves. Failure to do so could have dire consequences—for a patient’s health or the security of the user’s device/data.
Here’s what you should look for in an educational healthcare app:
Is the app produced by a legitimate healthcare organization? Is it sponsored by an association of healthcare professionals who specialize in the app’s core subject? For example, a heart health app could be sponsored by the American Heart Association, while a sterile processing app could be sponsored by IAHCSMM.
If there isn’t an organization backing up the app, does it have a board or group of experts directly involved in its development and content creation?
An app can have all the technological bells and whistles, but if it’s not backed by healthcare experts, it may not be the best source of information.
Similar to authority, the credibility of an app is important: Where does the app’s information come from? Are articles written (or fact-checked) by credentialed subject matter experts? Are sources clearly cited—and are those sources legitimate?
To get a feel for this, you can do a trial run of the app and flip through its content sections. Watch for citations or author information. You can also scan the app’s “about” section to see if it details the app’s editorial process. Does the app describe its own vetting and/or fact-checking process?
Without credible credentials or sources, the app’s accuracy comes into question—and an app that provides users with inaccurate healthcare information can cause significant harm.
For example, a 2014 paper in Translational Behavioral Medicine described the case of a mobile app meant to help users identify potential melanoma (skin cancer). However, the paper says the app “had very low sensitivity and was therefore likely to miss many melanomas. Use of this app had the potential to delay diagnosis and treatment for a condition in which early detection has a significant impact on survival rates.” Such an app could actually cause harm by giving users a false sense of security.
For apps that provide educational content and don’t claim to diagnose potential health problems, Health on the Net, which certifies health apps, recommends the app creators’ include a clearly identifiable “last update” timestamp with any health or legal content. That way, if a user accesses content about a condition or practice that has changed significantly in recent years or months (for example COVID-19), they can tell whether or not the information is current.
If authorship and information accuracy are up to par, the next question you should ask of an app is this: How is it funded?
What’s the business model? Is it entirely funded by a nonprofit, government, or other entity? If it’s funded by a business, does that relationship constitute a conflict of interest or does it seem that the content produced in the app is only tangentially related to the business?
The information can be accurate and useful even if the app drives users to use a business or other entity’s services, but put your thinking cap on. You’ll also want to know how the app uses (or doesn’t use) your data.
If the app collects personal data, how is that data protected? Is it properly encrypted? These questions may seem more difficult to answer, but the app should be upfront about its data security efforts—especially if it collects personally identifiable information or health information. Don’t just check “agree” and download the app.
Know what you’re agreeing to and whether or not the app’s developers are doing their part to keep your information and your device safe from cybercriminals. Properly secured apps should list their encryption algorithm(s) somewhere accessible to the user, and the algorithm(s) should be industry reviewed and FIPS (or similar) approved – AES-256, for example. If the app includes any URLs, they should be secured (https, not http) and have valid digital certificates that the user can verify.
Usability/User Experience (UX)
From a user’s standpoint, this may be the most important component, but usability—i.e., how easy the app is to understand and navigate—is meaningless if the other factors aren’t in place. This may be the easiest component to review as you survey apps. If you open an app and immediately feel lost or it takes you more than 10 minutes to understand how it’s set up (ideally, it wouldn’t take you more than two), the app probably has a poor UX. With good user experience, you won’t catch yourself wondering how to get from point A to point B. You’ll just get there
Check Out Censis’ True Grit App
Trustworthy educational healthcare apps offer a host of benefits to users, whether they’re patients or healthcare professionals. If you’re looking for an app that supports you as a sterile processing professional, check out our new True Grit app.
Featuring on-demand content that’s CE-accredited and discussion boards on industry topics facilitated by certified healthcare professionals, True Grit is a great way to stay up-to-speed on the latest in sterile processing, while connecting with other professionals in the field and inspiring your department. And yes, you read that right: You can get continuing education credits through the True Grit app.