JUL 06, 2016 04:49 AM PDT

Caution: Most Smartphone Fertility Apps Don't Work

People may be putting too much undue trust in smartphone apps for their most intimate matters, researchers report in a new study. In evaluating 100 fertility awareness apps, the team found less than stellar results, with only a handful that actually used evidence-based science.

Smartphone apps not so smart at fertility planning | Image: pixabay.com
In our current technologically charged era, there’s an app for just about everything, even those that offer fertility guidance for women looking to conceive a baby, or not. "Smartphone apps are increasing in popularity because more and more women are interested in using natural or fertility awareness based methods of family planning because they want to feel empowered with greater knowledge of their bodies," said Marguerite Duane, a family physician and an adjunct associate professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.

But what are the methods that these apps employ in order to guide women in one of the most consequential aspects of their adult life? As it turns out, a lot of apps actually don’t rely on quality science at all.
For their study, the research team surveyed 100 fertility awareness apps, widely available through iTunes, Google, or Google play. But more than half of these (55) were excluded immediately because the apps disclosed the lack of evidence-based methods for fertility awareness. Furthermore, these 55 supposed fertility apps actually disclaimed the prohibited use to avoid pregnancy. 
Then, of the remaining apps, the team assessed fertility accuracy based on a 5-point scale for scientific merit. In particular, they measured how well the apps performed against fertility awareness based methods (FABMs), which are entirely based on scientific evidence and have been proven to be highly accurate with appropriate use. "The effectiveness of fertility awareness based methods (FABMs) depends on women observing and recording fertility biomarkers and following evidence-based guidelines.”

 Of the 40 apps reviewed for evidence-based methods, 30 apps predicted fertility days and 10 did not. But sadly, only 6 of the 40 were accurate at predicting days of fertility. This dearth of reliable fertility awareness apps is alarming considering how many such apps are available on the market.
 “Apps offer a convenient way to track fertility biomarkers, but only some employ evidence-based FABMs," the authors write. But if women are relying on these apps to achieve or avoid pregnancy, then they may be deceived if they trust an app without scientific merit.
"When learning how to track your fertility signs, we recommend that women first receive instruction from a trained educator and then look for an app that scored 4 or more on mean accuracy and authority in our review," said Duane.

Additional sources: FACTS, Georgetown University Medical Center
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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