Mobile applications for diabetics: a systematic review and expert-based usability evaluation considering the special requirements of diabetes patients age 50 years or older

J Med Internet Res. 2014 Apr 9;16(4):e104. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2968.


Background: A multitude of mhealth (mobile health) apps have been developed in recent years to support effective self-management of patients with diabetes mellitus type 1 or 2.

Objective: We carried out a systematic review of all currently available diabetes apps for the operating systems iOS and Android. We considered the number of newly released diabetes apps, range of functions, target user groups, languages, acquisition costs, user ratings, available interfaces, and the connection between acquisition costs and user ratings. Additionally, we examined whether the available applications serve the special needs of diabetes patients aged 50 or older by performing an expert-based usability evaluation.

Methods: We identified relevant keywords, comparative categories, and their specifications. Subsequently, we performed the app review based on the information given in the Google Play Store, the Apple App Store, and the apps themselves. In addition, we carried out an expert-based usability evaluation based on a representative 10% sample of diabetes apps.

Results: In total, we analyzed 656 apps finding that 355 (54.1%) offered just one function and 348 (53.0%) provided a documentation function. The dominating app language was English (85.4%, 560/656), patients represented the main user group (96.0%, 630/656), and the analysis of the costs revealed a trend toward free apps (53.7%, 352/656). The median price of paid apps was €1.90. The average user rating was 3.6 stars (maximum 5). Our analyses indicated no clear differences in the user rating between free and paid apps. Only 30 (4.6%) of the 656 available diabetes apps offered an interface to a measurement device. We evaluated 66 apps within the usability evaluation. On average, apps were rated best regarding the criterion "comprehensibility" (4.0 out of 5.0), while showing a lack of "fault tolerance" (2.8 out of 5.0). Of the 66 apps, 48 (72.7%) offered the ability to read the screen content aloud. The number of functions was significantly negative correlated with usability. The presence of documentation and analysis functions reduced the usability score significantly by 0.36 and 0.21 points.

Conclusions: A vast number of diabetes apps already exist, but the majority offer similar functionalities and combine only one to two functions in one app. Patients and physicians alike should be involved in the app development process to a greater extent. We expect that the data transmission of health parameters to physicians will gain more importance in future applications. The usability of diabetes apps for patients aged 50 or older was moderate to good. But this result applied mainly to apps offering a small range of functions. Multifunctional apps performed considerably worse in terms of usability. Moreover, the presence of a documentation or analysis function resulted in significantly lower usability scores. The operability of accessibility features for diabetes apps was quite limited, except for the feature "screen reader".

Keywords: apps; diabetes mellitus; elderly; expert review; mHealth; market analysis; mobile applications; mobile health; systematic review; usability test.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cell Phone
  • Diabetes Mellitus / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Self Care / methods*
  • Telemedicine / methods