Study questions mHealth app effectiveness, calls for higher quality research to back up claims

A study carried out by a team at the Bond University in Queensland has shown a lack of research backing up mHealth app claims, concerns over app effectiveness, and calls for an increase in the amount of high quality research around app effectiveness.

The research looked for apps with systematic reviews, and using databases to establish possible candidates, just 23 apps met the criteria, mostly aimed at assisting those with diabetes, obesity, and mental health issues.

The paper states:

“Most trials were pilots with small sample size and of short duration. Risk of bias of the included reviews and trials was high. Eleven of the 23 trials showed a meaningful effect on health or surrogate outcomes attributable to apps. In conclusion, we identified only a small number of currently available stand-alone apps that have been evaluated in randomized controlled trials.”

Concerns over the effectiveness of the apps were also raised. The popular MyFitnessPal app showed, “almost no difference to the weight of the participants,” over a six month period, while youth drinking app Promillekol actually increased rather than decreases drinking habits.

In conclusion, it’s written:

“Smartphone popularity and mHealth apps provide a huge potential to improve health outcomes for millions of patients. However, we found only a small fraction of the available mHealth apps had been tested and the body of evidence was of very low quality. Without adequate evidence to back it up, digital medicine and app ‘prescribability’ might stall in its infancy for some time to come.”

To change this, the researchers say higher quality research, more testing prior to release, and improved processes for minimizing bias is needed.

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