Background: Interest in mobile health (mHealth) applications for self-management of diabetes is growing. In July 2009, we found 60 diabetes applications on iTunes for iPhone; by February 2011 the number had increased by more than 400% to 260. Other mobile platforms reflect a similar trend. Despite the growth, research on both the design and the use of diabetes mHealth applications is scarce. Furthermore, the potential influence of social media on diabetes mHealth applications is largely unexplored.
Objective: Our objective was to study the salient features of mobile applications for diabetes care, in contrast to clinical guideline recommendations for diabetes self-management. These clinical guidelines are published by health authorities or associations such as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the United Kingdom and the American Diabetes Association.
Methods: We searched online vendor markets (online stores for Apple iPhone, Google Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia Symbian), journal databases, and gray literature related to diabetes mobile applications. We included applications that featured a component for self-monitoring of blood glucose and excluded applications without English-language user interfaces, as well as those intended exclusively for health care professionals. We surveyed the following features: (1) self-monitoring: (1.1) blood glucose, (1.2) weight, (1.3) physical activity, (1.4) diet, (1.5) insulin and medication, and (1.6) blood pressure, (2) education, (3) disease-related alerts and reminders, (4) integration of social media functions, (5) disease-related data export and communication, and (6) synchronization with personal health record (PHR) systems or patient portals. We then contrasted the prevalence of these features with guideline recommendations.
Results: The search resulted in 973 matches, of which 137 met the selection criteria. The four most prevalent features of the applications available on the online markets (n = 101) were (1) insulin and medication recording, 63 (62%), (2) data export and communication, 61 (60%), (3) diet recording, 47 (47%), and (4) weight management, 43 (43%). From the literature search (n = 26), the most prevalent features were (1) PHR or Web server synchronization, 18 (69%), (2) insulin and medication recording, 17 (65%), (3) diet recording, 17 (65%), and (4) data export and communication, 16 (62%). Interestingly, although clinical guidelines widely refer to the importance of education, this is missing from the top functionalities in both cases.
Conclusions: While a wide selection of mobile applications seems to be available for people with diabetes, this study shows there are obvious gaps between the evidence-based recommendations and the functionality used in study interventions or found in online markets. Current results confirm personalized education as an underrepresented feature in diabetes mobile applications. We found no studies evaluating social media concepts in diabetes self-management on mobile devices, and its potential remains largely unexplored.