When it comes to being ill, most of us would much rather have a quick and easy remedy than be left feeling nauseous and wretched for days on end. Fortunately, the rise of technology has given us an army of smartphone apps designed to make our lives a little easier when we’re unwell. From tracking your flu to detecting if you have an STD, mobile software has come up with all kinds of clever tricks to help keep you well and assist you in the event that you fall unwell. But do they work? And more importantly, should you rely on them? Here are 5 reasons why not…


You can’t always trust the accuracy of medical apps.

There are a number of variables that come into play when you’re self-diagnosing. Firstly, not all symptoms are created equal. Some are more serious than others, and some are far more likely to be caused by a specific illness than others. For example, a headache can be caused by many different factors, and it’s unlikely that any app will be able to determine which one is the cause. Then there’s the fact that you’re self-reporting, which means you might be glossing over other important symptoms or missing them completely. Another factor is that when you’re feeling unwell, you’re not in the best frame of mind to make an accurate assessment of your symptoms. Your judgement and decision-making skills are not as good as they normally are when you’re well. This leaves you open to misdiagnosis, and you could end up doing more harm than good by trying to treat the wrong illness.


Most apps require you to input lots of personal data, which is then stored by the app developers and shared with third parties.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of data privacy, but are we really aware of how much personal information we share when we use these apps? Most of them require you to input your name, address, date of birth, gender, a list of existing conditions, and the names of your family members and next of kin, along with other sensitive information. Most will also request access to your location data so they can track your movements. They typically store this information on their servers, which could be in any part of the world, so it’s not subject to any privacy laws. Most of these apps are free to download, but in return for the service you get, your data is mined and shared with third parties, who could use it to sell you more products and services.


Tracking your symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you’ll get a more accurate diagnosis.

Tracking your symptoms could lead to you jumping to the conclusion that you have a specific illness, when in fact you don’t. For example, headaches are a common symptom of many different illnesses. You could treat yourself for a bacterial infection when you actually have a stress-related headache. The same goes for the flu. While most people associate a fever with the flu, it’s not always the case. There are lots of other conditions that can cause a fever, such as tonsillitis, glandular fever, and heat stroke. Some illnesses, such as food poisoning, can also cause a fever. If you treat yourself for the flu when you have food poisoning, you could actually make things worse.


They can be a distraction from getting the real help you need.

If you’re misdiagnosing your symptoms and over-treating yourself, you could be hindering your recovery. You could be taking time off work unnecessarily, or putting off visiting the doctor. You could also be causing yourself more harm by using the wrong type of treatment for your condition. Some of these apps encourage you to perform your own diagnosis and prescribe your own treatment. But diagnosis isn’t always that easy. Even doctors make mistakes and misdiagnose, so relying on your own diagnosis could be a mistake.


They could have the opposite effect to what’s intended.

Some illnesses are contagious. While you may be trying to avoid infecting others, you may actually be causing them to fall ill. For example, you might think you have chlamydia, but in reality, you have gonorrhea. By treating yourself for chlamydia, you could actually be making things worse. Chlamydia lives in your body, whereas gonorrhea has to be treated with antibiotics so it doesn’t spread to your partners. Taking medication for the wrong illness when you have gonorrhea could cause resistance to build up. This means that future medication won’t work as well as it should, which means you could be more seriously ill in the future.

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The rise of technology has left us with an army of smartphone apps designed to make our lives a little easier when we’re unwell. Some of them are incredibly useful, and they can act as a great starting point for self-diagnosis. Others can do more harm than good, especially if you’re misdiagnosing yourself or taking unnecessary medications for self-inflicted illnesses. Most apps are designed to be a helpful guide, not a substitute for medical advice. While they can be extremely useful, it’s important to remember that you can’t always trust the accuracy of medical apps.