Background: The availability of smartphone health apps empowers people to manage their own health. Currently, there are over 300,000 health apps available in the market targeting a variety of user needs from weight loss to management of chronic conditions, with diabetes being the most commonly targeted condition. To date, health apps largely fall outside government regulation, and there are no official guidelines to help clinicians and patients in app selection. Patients commonly resort to the internet for suggestions on which diabetes app to use.
Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate apps identified through a Google search and characterize these apps in terms of features that support diabetes management.
Methods: We performed a Google search for the "best diabetes apps 2017" and explored the first 4 search results. We identified and compiled a list of the apps recommended in the returned search results, which were Web articles. Information about each app was extracted from the papers and corresponding app store descriptions. We examined the apps for the following diabetes management features: medication management, blood glucose self-management, physical activity, diet and nutrition, and weight management.
Results: Overall, 26 apps were recommended in 4 papers. One app was listed in all 4 papers, and 3 apps appeared on 3 of the 4 lists. Apart from one paper, there were no explicit criteria to justify or explain the selection of apps. We found a wide variation in the type and the number of diabetes management features in the recommended apps. Five apps required payment to be used. Two-thirds of the apps had blood glucose management features, and less than half had medication management features. The most prevalent app features were nutrition or diet-related (19/24, 79%) and physical activity tracking (14/24, 58%).
Conclusions: The ambiguity of app selection and the wide variability in key features of the apps recommended for diabetes management may pose difficulties for patients when selecting the most appropriate app. It is critical to involve patients, clinicians, relevant professional bodies, and policy makers to define the key features an app should have for it to be classified as a "diabetes management" app. The lessons learned here may be extrapolated for the development and recommendation of apps for the management of other chronic conditions.
Keywords: Google; chronic diseases; diabetes; health apps; mobile phone.
©Geronimo Jimenez, Elaine Lum, Josip Car. Originally published in JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth (http://mhealth.jmir.org), 16.01.2019.