Smartphone Fertility Apps May Be Misleading To Women Trying To Avoid Pregnancy: Study

In recent years, a number of smartphone apps have been designed to aid with contraception, fertility or simply track menstrual cycles, but a new study suggests that they are not as effective as most users think.

U.K. researchers caution that women should not rely on smartphone apps to prevent pregnancy or to conceive a baby, as many of the apps are not accurate and can lead to unintended consequences, according findings published this month in the medical journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health.

The report looked at multiple research databases for studies focusing on mHealth apps published between January 2010 and April 2019. A total of 18 studies from 13 countries were reviewed, covering a variety of applications.

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The three main types of apps were fertility and reproductive health tracking, pregnancy planning, and pregnancy prevention, which were downloaded at least 200 million times in 2016 alone. However, the analysis indicated these apps are not always accurate and can often lead to unintended pregnancy or fail to help a woman get pregnant.

The apps require correct and consistent use with daily inputting of data. Some require women to take their basal body temperature daily or accurately log periods, but many women will fail to do these things on a consistent basis.

Some of the apps can be successfully used for contraception, but not all of them have been designed to include this feature. So women who use the apps as contraception face a risk of unintended pregnancy.

There has been a worldwide increase in the development and use of mHealth apps that monitor menstruation and fertility. The most common reason for using fertility apps include tracking the menstrual cycle, conceiving a baby, informing fertility treatment, and as a method of contraception.

Critics have indicated that many of the apps are inaccurate and lack evidence from either clinical trials or user experience to show its effectiveness. However, with mHealth apps, the user is considered the single greatest risk factor in the accuracy of the apps.

In addition, many women are wary to visit their doctor face to face during the COVID-19 pandemic. This can lead women to rely on fertility and contraceptive apps more heavily to avoid doctor’s visits by avoiding unnecessary trips outdoors or preventing consultations with already overworked medical professionals.

The researchers warn women should not rely on fertility apps during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid unintended pregnancies. Even a phone call to their doctor is preferable to relying on apps that can be unreliable.

So far, only one app is approved by the FDA to be marketed as a contraceptive, but even that app has a margin of error.

The study’s author and director of the Health & Wellbeing Priority Research Area at the Open University’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language Studies, Sarah Earle, indicated she would only rely on an app if it is certified for that specific use and she was familiar with the fertility awareness based methods.

“There is a lack of critical debate and engagement in the development, evaluation, usage and regulation of fertility and menstruation apps,” the researchers wrote. “The paucity of evidence-based research and absence of fertility, health professionals and users in studies is raised.”

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