Background: Asthma is one of the most common long-term conditions worldwide, which places considerable pressure on patients, communities and health systems. The major international clinical guidelines now recommend the inclusion of self management programmes in the routine management of patients with asthma. These programmes have been associated with improved outcomes in patients with asthma. However, the implementation of self management programmes in clinical practice, and their uptake by patients, is still poor. Recent developments in mobile technology, such as smartphone and tablet computer apps, could help develop a platform for the delivery of self management interventions that are highly customisable, low-cost and easily accessible.
Objectives: To assess the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and feasibility of using smartphone and tablet apps to facilitate the self management of individuals with asthma.
Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Airways Group Register (CAGR), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Global Health Library, Compendex/Inspec/Referex, IEEEXplore, ACM Digital Library, CiteSeer(x) and CAB abstracts via Web of Knowledge. We also searched registers of current and ongoing trials and the grey literature. We checked the reference lists of all primary studies and review articles for additional references. We searched for studies published from 2000 onwards. The latest search was run in June 2013.
Selection criteria: We included parallel randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared self management interventions for patients with clinician-diagnosed asthma delivered via smartphone apps to self management interventions delivered via traditional methods (e.g. paper-based asthma diaries).
Data collection and analysis: We used standard methods expected by the Cochrane Collaboration. Our primary outcomes were symptom scores; frequency of healthcare visits due to asthma exacerbations or complications and health-related quality of life.
Main results: We included two RCTs with a total of 408 participants. We found no cluster RCTs, controlled before and after studies or interrupted time series studies that met the inclusion criteria for this systematic review. Both RCTs evaluated the effect of a mobile phone-based asthma self management intervention on asthma control by comparing it to traditional, paper-based asthma self management. One study allowed participants to keep daily entries of their asthma symptoms, asthma medication usage, peak flow readings and peak flow variability on their mobile phone, from which their level of asthma control was calculated remotely and displayed together with the corresponding asthma self management recommendations. In the other study, participants recorded the same readings twice daily, and they received immediate self management feedback in the form of a three-colour traffic light display on their phones. Participants falling into the amber zone of their action plan twice, or into the red zone once, received a phone call from an asthma nurse who enquired about the reasons for their uncontrolled asthma.We did not conduct a meta-analysis of the data extracted due to the considerable degree of heterogeneity between these studies. Instead we adopted a narrative synthesis approach. Overall, the results were inconclusive and we judged the evidence to have a GRADE rating of low quality because further evidence is very likely to have an important impact on our confidence in the estimate of effect and is likely to change the estimate. In addition, there was not enough information in one of the included studies to assess the risk of bias for the majority of the domains. Although the other included study was methodologically rigorous, it was not possible to blind participants or personnel in the study. Moreover, there are concerns in both studies in relation to attrition bias and other sources of bias.One study showed that the use of a smartphone app for the delivery of an asthma self management programme had no statistically significant effect on asthma symptom scores (mean difference (MD) 0.01, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.23 to 0.25), asthma-related quality of life (MD of mean scores 0.02, 95% CI -0.35 to 0.39), unscheduled visits to the emergency department (OR 7.20, 95% CI 0.37 to 140.76) or frequency of hospital admissions (odds ratio (OR) 3.07, 95% CI 0.32 to 29.83). The other included study found that the use of a smartphone app resulted in higher asthma-related quality of life scores at six-month follow-up (MD 5.50, 95% CI 1.48 to 9.52 for the physical component score of the SF-12 questionnaire; MD 6.00, 95% CI 2.51 to 9.49 for the mental component score of the SF-12 questionnaire), improved lung function (PEFR) at four (MD 27.80, 95% CI 4.51 to 51.09), five (MD 31.40, 95% CI 8.51 to 54.29) and six months (MD 39.20, 95% CI 16.58 to 61.82), and reduced visits to the emergency department due to asthma-related complications (OR 0.20, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.99). Both studies failed to find any statistical differences in terms of adherence to the intervention and occurrence of other asthma-related complications.
Authors' conclusions: The current evidence base is not sufficient to advise clinical practitioners, policy-makers and the general public with regards to the use of smartphone and tablet computer apps for the delivery of asthma self management programmes. In order to understand the efficacy of apps as standalone interventions, future research should attempt to minimise the differential clinical management of patients between control and intervention groups. Those studies evaluating apps as part of complex, multicomponent interventions, should attempt to tease out the relative contribution of each intervention component. Consideration of the theoretical constructs used to inform the development of the intervention would help to achieve this goal. Finally, researchers should also take into account: the role of ancillary components in moderating the observed effects, the seasonal nature of asthma and long-term adherence to self management practices.