Claims that mHealth can save costs may miss the mark

Man using a smartphone
mHealth research doesn't always offer a comprehensive account of the economic impact.

Proponents of mHealth apps often say the tools can help hospitals cut patient treatment costs by streamlining care. But a more detailed look shows there's often inadequate evidence to support those assertions.

Although almost all studies address the economic factors of an mHealth intervention, including cost savings tied to improved outcomes, many of those studies fail to consider a range of factors that could influence the economic impact, according to a study published in PLOS One.

Researchers with the University of Washington and Columbia University reviewed 39 studies spanning several mHealth interventions—including behavioral health and text messaging—and found that most do not account for all of the Consolidated Health Economic Evaluations Reporting Standards (CHEERS) developed by the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Researcher (ISPOR), which include a broad spectrum of economic factors.

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On average, the studies evaluated included less than 80% of the CHEERS guidelines. Meanwhile, less than one-third of the studies were considered “high quality” based on adherence to CHEERS.

“Although all studies included a comparison of intervention effectiveness of a health-related outcome and reported economic data, many did not report all recommended economic outcome items and were lacking in comprehensive analysis,” the researchers wrote, urging future studies to account for all aspects of the CHEERS criteria.

Over the last year, providers have highlighted the cost-savings impact of mHealth apps that improve patient communication and streamline handoffs. However, a recent JAMA study found that many mHealth apps do not effectively manage chronic conditions, echoing previous research that mobile health apps offer little value.