Background: Many medical professionals use smartphone applications (apps) on a daily basis to support clinical decision making. Opioid switching (conversion of one opioid to another at equianalgesic dose) is common in clinical practice and often challenging for doctors. Apps providing an opioid conversion tool can therefore be a useful resource. Despite rapid growth in the use of medical apps, the lack of robust regulation and peer review to ensure the accuracy and reliability of app content is currently an area of concern.
Method: We searched major online app stores for apps providing an opioid dose conversion tool. We assessed output variability between apps in the dose calculation of seven opioid switches, as well as assessing the level of professional medical involvement in the authorship, creation and design of the apps.
Results: Of 23 different apps identified, more than half (n = 12; 52 %) had no stated medical professional involvement and only 11 (48 %) apps provided direct references to primary sources for their opioid conversion ratios. Conversion of 1 mg of oral morphine to oral codeine demonstrated the largest conversion output range (median 6.67 mg, range 3.333-12 mg). Conversion of 1 mg of oral morphine to methadone ranged from 0.05-0.67 mg, with only 44 % of methadone-converting apps (n = 4) commenting that the conversion ratio changes with magnitude of methadone dose. Overall, 35 % of apps (n = 8) did not warn the user about the standard practice of dose reduction when opioid switching. There was a statistically significant difference in the mean conversion output for hydromorphone (oral) between apps with and without medical professional involvement (0.2256 vs 0.2536; p = 0.0377).
Conclusions: There are significant concerns with regard to the reliability of information provided by apps offering opioid dose conversion, with lack of information regarding evidence-based content and peer review in many cases. It is crucial that better regulation of medical apps is instigated in order to ensure that patient safety is maintained.