Women's health and fertility applications make up nearly 10% of all health-related apps on smartphone app stores. But do they actually work?
Women's health and fertility apps can track menstrual cycles, contraception, help in planning conception and monitoring pregnancy.
A recently published study by HMRI researchers investigated whether these apps do what they say and whether they are backed up by any evidence.
After reviewing nearly 300 studies of 73 different apps, the researchers found that whilst 73% of fertility apps offered ovulation predictions, these were only just over 20% accurate.
The team also found only 5% of fertility apps contain professional advice or cite scientific literature. Additionally, the research shows most apps fail to provide any accurate information whatsoever. Of those that did, only 55% contained fertility information.
Dr Jessie Sutherland, the lead author of the study and HMRI researcher, says these apps need improvement.
"Ultimately when apps are developed in conjunction with experts there is potential for substantial improvements in fertility knowledge to occur," Dr Sutherland said.
"Unfortunately, they currently do so with severe limitations when it comes to recording menstrual cycle variability and accurate fertility prediction"
Study co-author Dr Emmalee Ford says that women should be very cautious when using apps, especially those focusing on fertility.
"Most period tracking apps provide a "fertile days" calculation, users want this information to either avoid unprotected sex for contraception or conversely to plan unprotected sex to achieve a pregnancy, " Dr Ford said.
Dr Ford says that problems arise when you use an app that is not designed for your specific goals.
"Many apps suit one function or the other, some do both pregnancy and contraception, and generally if they don't specify which one they're made for, I would avoid using them", Dr Ford said.
Read the full study in the journal Human Fertility