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New study questions effectiveness of health apps

Tuesday, 15 May 2018   (0 Comments)
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eHealthNews editor Rebecca McBeth

 

An Australian study has found little evidence that many ‘prescribable’ health apps are effective. 

 

The research, Prescribable mHealth apps identified from an overview of systematic reviews, identifies prescribable apps suitable for use in a primary care setting as those currently available, proven effective and preferably standalone.

 

The study authors say mobile health apps have significant potential for improving self-management of chronic conditions, and they analysed 23 randomised control trials of 22 apps to assess the evidence of their effectiveness.

They found that fewer than half showed the apps worked and some, such as the Lose-it! app, had the opposite effect of that advertised, in that it promoted weight gain rather than loss.

 

Results of another trial showed that alcohol use increased among university students who used the intervention app Promillekoll, which was supposed to curb alcohol use.

 

Even for the 11 trials that showed a meaningful effect on people’s health, “the overall evidence of effectiveness was of very low quality, which hinders the prescribability of those apps,” the research paper says. 

 

The research says there are more than 300,000 mHealth apps available and anyone can create and publish health and medical apps without having to test them.

 

The researchers suggest that an independent and reliable source should carry out the evaluation of apps to provide doctors with a list of prescribable apps.

 

“When proven effective and available, stand-alone mHealth apps that do not require dedicated central servers and additional human resources, can join other simple low-cost non-pharmaceutical interventions that can be ‘prescribed’ by general practitioners (GPs),” it says.

 

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health funds Health Navigator to develop an app library that aims “to make it easier and safer for New Zealanders to identify useful and relevant health apps”.

 

It provides independent reviews written by a range of clinical, business and consumer advisors.

 

More than 90 apps have been reviewed using a four-step process that provides a general, clinical and user review, while also assessing its relevance to New Zealanders. It also includes links to further research and reviews where available.

 

Health Navigator's clinical director Janine Bycroft says the organisation is interested in hearing from health professionals who have a patient success story regarding the use of an app, or a health app they would like reviewed.  

 

Sue Riddle, manager CVD, diabetes and LTC team at the MoH says the app library, "supports primary care clinicians by identifying health apps that their patients can use to help manage their health".

 

The Ministry has also published a guidance document with key information for clinicians and consumers to aid in decision making about health apps.

 


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