Helping make the health care system work for you

Health apps: How do we sort the good from the bad?

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Last week, I reported on a study that found an app that measures your blood pressure through your smartphone is "highly inaccurate." According to the research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the Instant Blood Pressure app missed high blood pressure levels in nearly four out of five people.

The app's manufacturer argued the study was based on faulty methodology and thus invalid;  the lead researcher defended the findings.

The research raises some bigger questions: How can we as consumers determine which mobile health apps can improve our health and which apps might actually put our health at risk?

For some answers, I reached out to Dr. Seth Martin, an assistant professor of medicine and cardiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was also a co-author of the JAMA Internal Medicine research letter.


Researchers find blood pressure app 'highly inaccurate' (updated)

Even if you're under 25, you should still know your blood pressure, a study says.

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Researchers found that "Instant Blood Pressure," an app that measures blood pressure, was inaccurate for nearly four out of five people.

An app that measures your blood pressure through your smartphone is "highly inaccurate," according to a research letter published Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine. The app, Instant Blood Pressure, missed high blood pressure levels in nearly four out of five people, the researchers found.

The app's manufacturer fired back on Wednesday, arguing that the study was based on faulty methodology and thus invalid. The lead researcher defended the findings.

"This isn't something I want my patients using," says Dr. Tim Plante, a general internal medicine fellow at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the letter.

The app is no longer available for sale, but it was popular between 2014 and 2015, with people buying 148,000 units, according to Plante and his colleagues. He's concerned that those who bought it will keep using it. 


How to talk about the HPV vaccine

HPV Vaccinations Back In Spotlight After Perry Joins Presidential Race

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As I recently reported, public health experts remain frustrated by chronically low rates of vaccination against a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical and other genital cancers.

Now, experts have another reason to push the HPV shot: Since it was introduced a decade ago, the shot has cut the rate of human papilloma virus - the most common sexually transmitted infection - by about two-thirds among young women ages 14 to 19, according to a report published in Pediatrics this week.

That’s an impressive feat, given that nationwide only about 40 percent of 13- to 17-year-old girls have received three or more doses of the HPV vaccine, according to a 2014 CDC survey. Boys weren't included in the Pediatrics study, but the CDC found that only 22 percent of 13- to 17-year-old boys were fully vaccinated.


BMI: An unreliable scale that could alter your insurance premium

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Your doctor has probably checked your body mass index – or BMI – at one time or another. But according to a new report from UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, there's a good chance your health was misclassified based on your BMI. 

The researchers analyzed the link between BMI and several health markers, like blood pressure and glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, using data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

They found that nearly half of people considered overweight on the BMI scale and 29 percent of those considered obese were metabolically healthy. On the flip side, more than 30 percent of people considered to be normal weight on the BMI scale were metabolically unhealthy.

Overall, the study found some 74 million Americans' health has been misclassified based on their BMI.


Doctors and patients are discussing ways to cut costs

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Many people might find it awkward to bring up money with their doctor, but a new study finds that physicians and patients are talking about health care costs in about one-third of office visits, and that nearly half of those conversations focus on ways patients could save money. 

"With surprising frequency, doctors and patients are talking about health care costs during clinical encounters," says Dr. Peter Ubel, a Duke University professor and one of the authors of the study, published last month in the journal Medical Decision Making.

Though doctors were not traditionally taught to consider the cost of care, the study finds that they initiated about 58 percent of the cost conversations.

"I think the doctors are bringing it up because they see a lot of patients suffering," Ubel says. "They've had enough patients complain about costs. They're more aware of it; their antennas are up for the problem."