Background: Mobile health interventions (mHealth) based on smartphone applications (apps) are promising tools to help improve diabetes care and self-management; however, more evidence on the efficacy of mHealth in diabetes care is needed. The objective of this study was to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the effect of mHealth apps on changes in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), blood glucose, blood pressure, serum lipids, and body weight in type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) patients.
Methods: Two independent reviewers searched three online databases (PubMed, the Cochrane Library, and EMBASE) to identify relevant studies published between January 2005 and June 2016. Of the 2,596 articles retrieved, 13 RCTs were included. We used random effects model to estimate the pooled results.
Results: Thirteen studies were selected for the systematic review, six of which with data available containing 1,022 patients were included for the meta-analysis. There was a moderate effect on glycemic control after the mHealth app-based interventions. The overall effect on HbA1c shown as mean difference (MD) was -0.40% (-4.37 mmol/mol) (95% confidence interval [CI] -0.69 to -0.11% [-7.54 to -1.20 mmol/mol]; p = 0.007) and standardized mean differences (SMD) was -0.40% (-4.37 mmol/mol) (95% confidence interval [CI] -0.69 to -0.10% [-7.54 to -1.09 mmol/mol]; p = 0.008). A subgroup analysis showed a similar effect with -0.33% (-3.61 mmol/mol) (95% CI -0.59 to -0.06% [-6.45 to -0.66 mmol/mol]; p = 0.02) in MD and -0.38% (-4.15 mmol/mol) (95% CI -0.71 to -0.05% [-7.76 to -0.55 mmol/mol]; p = 0.02) in SMD in studies where patients' baseline HbA1c levels were less than 8.0%. No effects of mHealth app interventions were found on blood pressure, serum lipids, or weight. Assessment of overall study quality and publication bias demonstrated a low risk of bias among the six studies.
Conclusions: Smartphone apps offered moderate benefits for T2DM self-management. However, more research with valid study designs and longer follow-up is needed to evaluate the impact of mHealth apps for diabetes care and self-management.