Report: Diabetes mobile app usage falling short

Only 1.2 percent of diabetics that have a mobile device globally (1.6 million people) use a diabetes app to manage their health condition, according to a new report from Research2Guidance. 

"Currently, diabetes apps are not meeting the expectations of app publishers, healthcare professionals and diabetic patients," writes Ralf-Gordon Jahns, Co-Founder of Research2Guidance, in a blog post about the report. "The acceptance rate and usage of diabetes apps within the target group is low."

Based on the German research firm's criteria, the addressable target group for diabetes apps are diabetics that have a smartphone or tablet. But, as the report notes, though more than 1,100 iOS and Android apps available on the Apple App Store and Google Play are specifically designed for diabetics and their treatment, these diabetes apps do not meet best practice standards. 

"Apps still rely to a great extent on manual input of e.g. test results," writes Jahns. "Interoperability with existing glucose meters and health and fitness apps to import blood sugar test, activity and food intake data is only an exception. Only a few diabetes apps take care of the important motivational aspect of diabetes management by using gamification elements, a supporting design as well as communication features to get feedback from friends and the physician."

In addition, he said another reason for low usage of diabetes apps is that traditional healthcare payers have not started yet to integrate diabetes apps into their reimbursement models, given their belief that the "quality of the numerous existing clinical studies is not good enough to justify the expenditure."

The good news, according to the report, is that the market environment for diabetes apps will improve over the next five years. During this period, the main factors that will drive the penetration rate for diabetes apps include:

  • The ongoing growth of people with diabetics that are addressable with an app
  • The changing of the role of mobile apps. From a stand-alone product to a bundle product, that leverages the app as a tool to sell devices (e.g. plug-in glucometers and wearable sensors) and services (e.g. remote monitoring and consultation)
  • An ongoing increase of the total supply of apps and of apps that adapt best practice elements for diabetes apps
  • The beginning of the reimbursement of diabetes apps costs by traditional payers in countries with high yearly treatment costs for a diabetic patient

By 2018, the report predicts diabetes apps will be used by 7.8 percent of diabetics around the globe (24 million people) that have capable mobile devices. Last year, approximately 382 million people worldwide were estimated to suffer from diabetes. By 2035, the number of people with diabetes is expected to reach 592 million globally, which is a potential windfall for mobile app developers. 

"Based on the value mobile apps can have and the size of the addressable market, diabetes apps are being constantly rated in our yearly mHealth app market surveys as the therapeutic area with the highest business potential for mHealth apps," writes Jahns.

In November, a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found the use of a diabetes-related smartphone app combined with weekly text-message support from a healthcare professional can significantly improve glycemic control in adults with type 1 diabetes. Of the initial 72 patients, 53 completed the study (25 intervention, 28 control group). The intervention group significantly improved glycemic control from baseline to nine-month follow-up, compared to the control group.

To learn more:
- read the blog post