Most prevalent health conditions get the short stick from mHealth

Of the eight most prevalent health conditions globally, diabetes and depression have an overwhelming number of mobile applications and research, while there is a lack of apps and research related to other conditions such as anemia, hearing loss and low vision, according to research published recently in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The most prevalent conditions, as established by the World Health Organization: iron-deficiency anemia, hearing loss, migraine, low vision, asthma, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis (OA), and unipolar depressive disorders. Nevertheless, the "distribution of work on mobile applications is not equal for the eight most prevalent conditions," the article's authors said.

The results are based on a review of mobile apps in published articles and a review of commercially available mHealth apps, both of which were current as of April 2013, according to the authors. For the review of mobile apps in literature, published articles were retrieved from five publications: IEEE Xplore, Scopus, ScienceDirect, Web of Knowledge and PubMed. For the review of mHealth apps, the authors searched five commercial app stores: Google play, iTunes, BlackBerry World, Windows Phone Apps+Games, and Nokia's Ovi store. In addition, two apps for each condition--one for each review--were selected for an in-depth analysis.

The research located 247 papers and more than 3,673 apps related to the most prevalent conditions. The conditions in descending order by the number of apps found in literature are: diabetes, asthma, depression, hearing loss, low vision, OA, anemia, and migraine. However when ordered by the number of commercial apps found, the list is: diabetes, depression, migraine, asthma, low vision, hearing loss, OA, and anemia. Excluding OA from the former list, the four most prevalent conditions have fewer apps and research than the final four.

The researchers also found that there are conditions with more than 1,000 apps--such as diabetes or depression--while there are others with only a range between 14 and 112 apps. 

The authors concluded that there is more of a commercial and economic motivation in creating mHealth apps than a research motivation. "Maybe it would be better to merge both, ie, first developing an app while investigating and then using it for commercial purposes," they said.

In related news, Johns Hopkins University researchers conducted a search on the U.S. federal clinicaltrials.gov database using the keywords "mHealth", "mobile" or "cell AND phone" to obtain 1,678 results of studies, of which 215 unique mHealth studies were identified. The results recently were published in a letter to the editor of the International Journal of Medical Informatics.

According to the letter, of the 215 mHealth studies, 81.8 percent used a classical randomized trial design and 40 new studies were added to the database between May and November 2012, alone. Based on those results, the authors posited that the field is entering a "new era where a body of rigorous evaluation of mHealth strategies is rapidly accumulating," and that the "transition into an era of evidence-based mHealth supports our position that innovation in this domain can be evaluated with the same rigor as other public health strategies."

To learn more:
- read the article

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