Study: Vulnerable patient populations find apps close to useless

Low-income patients are eager to embrace mobile healthcare apps, but the majority say the tools are frustrating and nearly useless, finding data entry burdensome and gaining little use from the apps.

A new UC San Francisco study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, revealed nearly every participant who used health apps could not get to a productive point. The respondents also were able to complete just 51 percent of data entry tasks and just 43 percent of them could access data from the tools.

The research involved patients at The Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (ZSFG), a UCSF partner hospital. Most were managing diabetes or depression, while come serve as caregivers.

Most of those participating found the apps hard to use, which means developers need to create better tools and may consider engaging users in creating apps to improve functionality, according to the report's authors.

“We have such a great opportunity now for patients to use mobile technology to interact with their medical providers and to become more involved in their own care,” Urmimala Sarkar, study lead and associate professor of medicine at the Center for Vulnerable Populations at ZSFG, said in an announcement. “Nowhere is this more important than for vulnerable populations who often suffer disproportionately from a multitude of chronic, serious conditions. If we can give them the tools to manage their health between medical visits, the benefits could be tremendous.”

The study’s conclusions are just the latest evidence of how mHealth apps are failing to meet user, provider and payer expectations. A study released in mid-June noted very few apps providing high quality heart failure symptom monitoring. Research earlier this month evaluated 40 fertility and pregnancy apps and found just six recorded a perfect score for accuracy.

 For more information:
- check out the study abstract
- read the announcement