Beware of the craze over health-related apps. A new study suggests that many of them are practically useless.
A report by the Commonwealth Fund found that just 43 percent of health-related apps available on iPhones and 27 percent of those offered on Androids “appeared likely to be useful.”
The review of 1,046 apps focused on their own description of engagement, their relevance to the targeted patient population, consumer reviews and the most recent update of the application.
Health issues that the reviewed apps purported to address included “alcohol, arthritis, asthma, bipolar, cancer, cirrhosis, cognitive impairment, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, dementia, depression, diabetes, drug abuse, heart disease, heart failure, high blood pressure, hypertension, kidney disease, liver disease, lung disease, obesity, pain, smoking, and stroke.”
The researchers developed a pyramid that described the different functions a health app could provide, with the most basic one (at the bottom) being education. The more functions the app included, such as alerts, tracking health information and finally, at the top, rewards for certain behavior, the more useful it was.
The study was by no means aimed at discouraging the use of health apps, but rather identifying those that actually drive patients to be engaged in their care by connecting patients with a support network, including health care professionals and friends and family.
“Mobile health applications, or apps, designed for smartphones can help empower high-need, high-cost patients to self-manage their health,” said the report.