Mobile apps for prevention, care of HIV need improvement

Though mobile phone apps increasingly are being used for the prevention and care of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, most available apps have failed to attract user attention and positive reviews, according to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Researchers found that apps were infrequently downloaded (median 100 to 500 downloads) and not highly rated (an average customer rating 3.7 out of 5 stars). As a result, the study's author recommended that public health practitioners should work with app developers to incorporate elements of evidence-based interventions for risk reduction and improve app inclusiveness and interactivity.

"Unfortunately, many of the very features that make apps such a promising platform for delivering HIV/STD prevention and care services appear to be lacking in the currently available HIV/STD-related apps," researchers, led by Kathryn E. Muessig, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote. "Based on our review, as of August 1, 2012, less than 0.3 percent of the more than 29,000 health-related apps available for iPhone and Android consumers were dedicated to HIV/STD information and prevention."

The researchers searched the Apple iTunes and Android Google Play stores for HIV/STD-related apps, excluding apps that exclusively targeted industry, providers, and researchers. Each eligible app was downloaded, tested, and assessed for user ratings and functionality as well as six broad content areas of HIV prevention and care: HIV/STD disease knowledge, risk reduction/safer sex, condom promotion, HIV/STD testing information, resources for HIV-positive persons, and focus on key populations.

Their search queries identified 1,937 apps of which 55 unique apps met the inclusion criteria (12 for Android, 29 for iPhone, and 14 for both platforms). Among these apps, 71 percent provided disease information about HIV/STDs, 36 percent provided HIV/STD testing information or resources, 29 percent included information about condom use or assistance locating condoms, and 24 percent promoted safer sex.

Only six apps (11 percent) covered all four of these prevention areas. Eight apps (15 percent) provided tools or resources specifically for HIV/STD positive persons. Ten apps included information for a range of sexual orientations, nine apps appeared to be designed for racially/ethnically diverse audiences, and 15 apps featured interactive components.

In related news, a handheld smartphone-enabled blood testing system developed by University of Rhode Island researchers could eliminate the days-long wait for test results virulent pathogens such as HIV.

To learn more:
- read the JMIR study