Study: So many health apps, so few well-served patients

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 - Apps

Among 1,000-plus mobile healthcare applications aimed at patients, fewer than half of iOS apps and a little more than a quarter of Android ones are likely to be useful, according to an analysis commissioned by the Commonwealth Fund.

Karandeep Singh, MD, University of Michigan, led the study, on which the New York City-based foundation published an issue brief Feb. 18.

The brief describes how the team systematically scoured iOS (Apple) and Android app stores, then developed a framework to identify and evaluate apps designed for people with chronic illnesses.

Their initial search turned up some 936 iOS apps and 1,173 Android apps dealing with a broad range of medical conditions. After using the framework to whittle the field to the apps that qualified as sufficiently patient-facing, healthcare-specific and otherwise optimally relevant, Singh et al. arrived at some illuminating numbers.

Of 376 iOS apps:

  • 24 (6 percent) appeared to have limited engagement beyond traditional media.
  • 66 (18 percent) were not relevant to the search condition.
  • 33 (9 percent) had poor ratings or reviews.
  • 63 (17 percent) were last updated prior to 2014.
  • 29 (8 percent) were otherwise not assessed to be useful.

Of 569 Android apps:

  • 89 (16 percent) had limited engagement.
  • 56 (10 percent) were not relevant to the search condition.
  • 8 (1 percent) had poor ratings or reviews.
  • 200 (35 percent) were last updated prior to 2014.
  • 64 (11 percent) were otherwise not assessed to be useful.

In all, 161 (43 percent) iOS apps and 152 (27 of) Android apps were assessed as possibly useful, according to the brief. Of these, 126 apps existed on both platforms.

In their conclusion, the authors note that app quality and safety don’t necessarily align with functionality and must be considered separately.

“In developing this framework, we discovered several apps that sacrificed quality or safety in the pursuit of added functionality,” they write. “While apps have tremendous potential to engage high-need, high-cost populations, a minority of patient-facing health applications on both the Apple and Android stores appear likely to be useful to patients.”

The brief is  posted in full online.