Challenges persist for behavioral health app evaluation

Adam Powell

When it comes to evaluation of mobile apps for behavioral health, there is no one viable approach.

While there are a healthy and growing number of app ratings approaches, none accurately represent the patient, notes a study published in Psychiatric Annals. According to the research, there are few rating criteria focused on data sharing and interoperability, both of which are important factors in assessing app value. The study notes a lack of clinical outcomes data as one of many challenges when it comes to developing accurate and timely ratings.

“This field is still in its infancy, and there is no clear leader yet,” study author Adam Powell, president of Payer+Provider, told FierceMobileHealthcare via email. “Interrater reliability of many of the quality measures is low.”

The research, Powell said, explores how ratings processes evaluate app functionality, if apps are free of conflicts of interest and bias, and if aspects of the apps are relevant to patients and providers.

Given no clear defined evaluation process winner as of yet, Powell recommends that app creators--as well as providers recommending apps--evaluate apps using the “ASPECTS” methodology. The process determines whether an app is actionable, secure, professional, evidence-based, customizable and transparent.

“Unfortunately, healthcare providers are not in a good position to determine whether apps are storing or transmitting data securely, as they likely do not have the tools nor the know-how to verify claims made by app developers,” Powell said. “Nonetheless, they should use their best professional judgment when making app recommendations to patients, and should disclose to patients whether there are areas of an app’s performance that they have been unable to evaluate.”