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Patients Beware: Experts Say Your Favorite Health App Could Provide False Information

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Everyone has heard the saying 'there's an app for that' and one of the hottest areas for apps these days is in health and wellness.

But as CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained medical app use should come with the warning 'patient beware.'

Many patients are relying on mobile apps on their tablets and smart phones partly out of convenience -- they save a trip to the doctor's office -- and partly because they can monitor chronic conditions and relay the information to your doctor.

The trouble is they're often inaccurate.

Every morning 88-year-old Milton Meisner checks and records his vitals like weight, temperature, and blood pressure using his iPad.

His stats are instantly sent to his doctors through an online app.

"The numbers are accurate. You can't fool around with the numbers," he said.

Meisner's healthcare app was approved by physicians at USC's Keck Medical Center, and it works the way it should.

But as Dr. Leslie Saxson explained, that's not always the case.

"We see applications that run the gamut. Super responsible great applications and applications that don't do anything near what they claim to do," she said.

Right now there are more than 165,000 health and wellness apps available on smartphones and tablets, but only a fraction of them have been validated by the FDA.

"The FDA has approved over 160 regulated applications," Dr. Saxson explained.

Dr. Saxson said many other apps on the market today haven't been tested enough for accuracy, and others have gone entirely unvetted.

A study from John Hopkins University found one popular blood pressure app gave measurements that were flat out wrong. It's been pulled off the market.

"If it looks too good to be true it probably is," Dr. Saxson said.

Dr. Saxson is now part of an FDA panel working to develop global guidelines and regulations for healthcare apps.

Doctors said you should consult with your physician if you plan to use an app to find out if it will benefit your health care.

Even though the FDA does not require approval for mobile medical apps the agency does have a list of the ones it has vetted.

Always check with your doctor before relying on an app and never use an app for your primary diagnosis or treatment.

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