Mobile apps for diabetes patients need careful review

Reuters Health - Diabetes patients who use smartphone applications to manage their condition should know that not all apps are reliable, researchers say.

“We have more than 165,000 health and fitness apps in app stores right now and little control over what’s being published,” said study author Francois Modave of the University of Florida in Gainesville.

“App manufacturers want to produce good information, but there’s no oversight from any health organization or agency,” Modave told Reuters Health by phone.

Approximately 29 million Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Modave and colleagues used the Mobile App Rating Scale to analyze and rank the top free apps for diabetes management. They also looked at the number of diabetes-specific management tasks that the apps included, such as physical activity, nutrition, blood glucose testing, medication and insulin dosage, health feedback, and education.

In June 2016, the researchers identified 120 free patient apps for Android and Apple devices and evaluated 89 that were in English and didn’t require subscriptions. Overall, the apps scored high on aesthetics and engagement but poorly on information and quality. Only four of the 89 apps integrated the six diabetes management tasks, and fewer than half the apps integrated four tasks.

The top free apps, according to the researchers, were Tactio Health: My Connected Health Logbook for iOS devices and American Association of Diabetes Educators Diabetes Goal Tracker for Android devices. The Accu-Chek 360 Diabetes Management for Android was also a top app but has been discontinued; in its place is a new program (which the researchers didn’t analyze) called Accu-Chek Connect.

“In the clinic, patients sometimes forget to bring their meter, but they always have their phone,” said Helen Fu of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who studies patients’ use of diabetes apps but who wasn’t involved in Modave’s research.

Another advantage of phones over glucose meters is that “meter reports often come out as PDFs, which you can’t track or search well in an electronic health record,” she told Reuters Health by phone.

Dr. Nana Hempler of the Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen in Denmark, who has also studied apps for diabetics but wasn’t involved with this study, told Reuters Health by phone, “Patients also want to know about their mood, stress, sleep problems and well-being, which aren’t very common in most diabetes apps.”

Dr. Sarah Bigi of Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, Italy, who wasn’t involved with this study, is testing a new messaging app for patients with diabetes at two hospitals in Italy.

“We’re interested in how verbal communication can enhance self-management,” Bigi told Reuters Health by email. “I think we have to devote major consideration to this aspect when we assess mobile technology.”

Lead study author Sarah Chavez of the University of Florida told Reuters Health that health care providers who work with diabetes patients should stay informed about the top apps in app stores.

“See what’s out there,” she advises. “Know what your patients are looking at and make sure they’re searching for the right ones.”

SOURCE: Diabetes Care, online August 3, 2017.