More evidence is needed before an app which helps users monitor their menstrual cycle as a form of contraception can be adopted for use on the NHS, a NICE briefing paper has concluded.
In a review of the published evidence on Natural Cycles, an app used by around 250,000 people in the UK, a panel of experts said there were potential benefits of its use including that it is another option for those who are unable to, or do not wish to, use other methods of contraception.
It can also be used by people planning a pregnancy as it informs users when they are likely or unlikely to be fertile although there is no data currently on how effective it is for that purpose, the briefing paper said.
Natural Cycles, which costs £49.99 for a one-year subscription, has not been directly compared with any other contraception, NICE pointed out.
It differs from other contraception apps in that it comes with a basal thermometer and is CE-marked as a medical device, the NICE Medtech innovation report said.
The briefing paper is not a formal recommendation but designed to support NHS and social care commissioners and staff who are considering using new medical devices and to reduce the need to produce information on the technology locally.
NICE looked at five observational or retrospective studies from users of the app in Sweden and found a typical-use pregnancy rate of around 7%, comparing favourably with rates for calendar fertility-awareness methods (24%) or condom use (8%).
But it is unlikely to be suitable for people with highly irregular menstrual cycles or irregular sleeping patterns because the user must take their temperature as soon as they wake up, the paper said.
The company said research on UK-specific data was being prepared.
Three of four experts invited to comment on the review ‘highlighted the need for further evidence before Natural Cycles can be adopted in the NHS’.
The specialists pointed out that any use would be in addition to current service provision but there would be a need for GP training.