Mobile Apps for Diabetes

By September 14, 2017 Commentary

We all know how much venture capital and other funding is being dumped into mobile this and mobile that for health care.  What continues to be very unclear is whether any of these will do anything to improve health care delivery and outcomes, or whether they might even worsen those.  Apps are being floated out there without almost no regulation and the quality of some has to be suspect.  An article in Diabetes Care reviews a number of mobile apps intended to help patients manage diabetes care.   (App Article)   About 30 million Americans have diabetes.  Over 75% of adults have a smartphone and according to research, 50% of those adults use the smartphone to do health-related tasks.  The utility of mobile health apps has become a serious enough concern that people have actually developed a Mobile App Rating Scale to evaluate their quality.  This scale looks at engagement, functionality, aesthetics and information.  The authors of this article selected the top 30 of each of diabetes and diabetes management apps from the iTunes Store and from Google Play.  After removing duplicates and other winnowing, they ended up with 89 apps.  In addition to using the MARS tool, they looked at specific diabetes management tasks facilitated by the app.  The top possible score is 6.  The apps averaged a rating 3.79 for functionality, 3.43 for aesthetics (irrelevant), 3.15 for engagement, 2.23 for information and 2.99 for total quality.  Only four of the apps integrated all diabetes management tasks identified by the reviewers and less than half had even four of the tasks.  There were a couple of apps that had very high scores, but from the averages you can see that most of them aren’t particularly good.  To the extent that patients might buy the hype and think that a mobile app is going to make a big difference in their health, they are likely being deluded.  Similarly, physicians who hope that a mobile app may be a useful adjunct to their treatment recommendations are similarly likely to be disappointed.

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