Researchers: Many current mHealth apps boast little value, usefulness

Very few mobile health apps are useful, and more than a few disregard safety and quality in a quest to provide wider functionality, according to new research published by the Commonwealth Fund.

Researchers--including Karandeep Singh, M.D., of the University of Michigan, and David Bates, M.D., chief innovation officer and senior vice president of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston--created a framework for assessing and evaluating mHealth apps, including examining patient engagement, quality and safety. They found that while apps boast strong potential to engage high-need, high-cost populations, most don't offer up much value.

"A minority of patient-facing health applications on both the Apple and Android stores appear likely to be useful to patients," the authors say. "In developing this framework, we discovered several apps that sacrificed quality or safety in the pursuit of added functionality."

A recent similar report called mHealth app reviews not trustworthy for patients or caregivers, with researchers concluding that consumers are best off relying on personal and clinical judgment when choosing an app to use. 

In the Commonwealth Fund assessment, an app's usefulness was determined regarding relevance to the target patient, consumer feedback, level of engagement and updates. Of 1,046 patient-facing apps, described as those targeting chronic illness, 43 percent of iOS apps and 27 percent of Android apps were deemed likely to be useful.

Regarding iOS apps, 18 percent were not relevant to the chronic condition and 9 percent had poor ratings. Of the Android apps, 16 percent had limited engagement, 11 percent were not assessed to be useful and 10 percent were not relevant to search condition.

For more information:
- here's the Commonwealth Fund research

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