Evaluation of Mobile Apps Targeted to Parents of Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: Systematic App Review

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Apr 15;7(4):e11620. doi: 10.2196/11620.


Background: Parents of preterm infants increasingly use their mobile phone to search for health information. In a recent review, websites targeted toward parents with infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) were found to have poor to moderate quality educational material; however, there is a dearth of literature regarding mobile apps for NICU parents.

Objective: This study aimed to identify and evaluate apps targeting parents of infants in the NICU for quality of information, usability, and credibility.

Methods: We systematically searched the Apple App Store and Google Play using 49 key terms (eg, "preterm infant") from July 26 to August 18, 2017. English apps targeting NICU parents that cost less than $20 were included. Apps for health care professionals, e-books/magazines, or nonrelevant results were excluded. In total, 3 tools were used for evaluation: Mobile Application Rating Scale (MARS) to measure quality; Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool for Audiovisual Materials (PEMAT-AV) to measure the app's content usability; and Trust it or Trash It to measure credibility.

Results: The initial search yielded 6579 apps, with 49 apps eligible after title and description screening. In total, 27 apps met the eligibility criteria with 9 apps available in both app stores; of those, the app with the most recent update date was chosen to be included in the analysis. Thus, 18 unique apps were included for final analysis. Using MARS, 7 apps (7/18, 39%) received a good score on overall quality (ie, 4.0 out of 5.0), with none receiving an excellent score. In addition, 8 apps (8/18, 44%) received a PEMAT-AV score between 51% and 75% on the understandability subscale, and 8 apps (8/18, 44%) scored between 76% and 100% on the actionability subscale. Trust It or Trash It deemed 13 apps (13/18, 72%) as trash for reasons including no identification of sources or lack of current information, with only 5 (5/18, 28%) deemed trustworthy. Reviewer's expert evaluation found 16 apps contained content that matched information provided by multiple sources; however, most apps did not meet other objective measurement items to support credibility. When comparing the MARS overall quality and subjective quality scores with trustworthiness of apps, there was no statistically significant difference. A statistically significant difference was found between the 2 MARS quality scores, indicating that, on average, apps were ranked significantly lower on subjective quality compared with overall quality measures.

Conclusions: This evaluation revealed that of the available apps targeting NICU parents, less than half should be considered as acceptable educational material. Over two-thirds of the apps were found to have issues regarding credibility and just over a quarter were considered good quality. The apps currently available for NICU parents are lacking and of concern in terms of quality and credibility.

Keywords: eHealth; education, nonprofessional; infant, premature; intensive care units, neonatal; mHealth; mobile apps; mobile health; parenting; review.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Consumer Behavior
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / psychology
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal / organization & administration*
  • Mobile Applications / standards*
  • Parents / psychology*