- Despite a proliferation of novel mobile health apps, real clinical utility is still out of reach for people with chronic conditions, a study in the December issue of Health Affairs concludes.
- The researchers assessed 137 patient-facing mHealth apps that targeted high-need, high-cost populations, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and depression. The apps were all highly rated by consumers and recommended by experts.
- While there was lots of choice, few apps offered real benefits to the user, such as rewarding behavior modifications or giving guidance based on user-entered information.
The researchers recommend involving clinicians and patients in app ratings to ensure the recommended apps are user-friendly and clinically useful, and tailoring recommendations based on the patient needs. They also call for better data security and apps that respond appropriately to dangerous information. For example, medical societies might develop labels — similar to food labels — for various mHealth apps, and patients and providers could search the labels for apps that target their disease and offer relevant functionalities, the study says.
“Overall, we believe that the results we present suggest that the marketplace of mHealth apps targeting high-need, high-cost populations is maturing and is diverse enough that medical professional societies and patient advocacy groups should give serious thought to how apps may be used to benefit specific patients,” the researchers write. “Still, there are many gaps in the apps and substantial room for improving them.”
More than 165,000 mHealth apps are available to patients, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. And about half of Americans use a mobile app to track health, fitness or medication, a survey by communications firm Ketchum found. But not all of them are FDA-regulated for safety and performance.
Last month, the American Medical Association issued a roadmap for integrating mHealth apps with clinical practice, in an effort to enhance safety and care coordination.
Previous studies have shown that while mHealth apps have potential for helping people with chronic conditions, most haven’t shown much value, FierceHealthcare reports. Still others have raised privacy and security concerns.
A study earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found many health apps may be sharing patients’ health data without their knowledge or permission. And a long overdue report from the Department of Health and Human Services to Congress identified “key gaps” in HIPAA’s ability to protect personal data generated by mobile apps.