Functionality and Quality of Asthma mHealth Apps and Their Consistency With International Guidelines: Structured Search and Evaluation

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2024 Jan 10:12:e47295. doi: 10.2196/47295.

Abstract

Background: Asthma is a chronic respiratory disorder requiring long-term pharmacotherapy and judicious patient self-management. Few studies have systematically evaluated asthma mobile health (mHealth) apps for quality and functionality; however, none have systematically assessed these apps for their content alignment with international best practice guidelines.

Objective: This review aims to conduct a systematic search and evaluation of current mHealth apps in the Australian marketplace for their functionality, quality, and consistency with best practice guidelines.

Methods: The most recent Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) guidelines were reviewed to identify key recommendations that could be feasibly incorporated into an mHealth app. We developed a checklist based on these recommendations and a modified version of a previously developed framework. App stores were reviewed to identify potential mHealth apps based on predefined criteria. Evaluation of suitable apps included the assessment of technical information, an app quality assessment using the validated Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS) framework, and an app functionality assessment using the Intercontinental Medical Statistics Institute for Health Informatics (IMS) Functionality Scoring System. Finally, the mHealth apps were assessed for their content alignment with the GINA guidelines using the checklist we developed.

Results: Of the 422 apps initially identified, 53 were suitable for further analysis based on inclusion and exclusion criteria. The mean number of behavioral change techniques for a single app was 3.26 (SD 2.27). The mean MARS score for all the reviewed apps was 3.05 (SD 0.54). Of 53 apps, 27 (51%) achieved a total MARS score of ≥3. On average, the reviewed apps achieved 5.1 (SD 2.79) functionalities on the 11-point IMS functionality scale. The median number of functionalities identified was 5 (IQR 2-7). Overall, 10 (22%) of the 45 apps with reviewer consensus in this domain provided general knowledge regarding asthma. Of 53 apps, skill training in peak flow meters, inhaler devices, recognizing or responding to exacerbations, and nonpharmacological asthma management were identified in 8 (17%), 12 (25%), 11 (28%), and 14 (31%) apps, respectively; 19 (37%) apps could track or record "asthma symptoms," which was the most commonly recorded metric. The most frequently identified prompt was for taking preventive medications, available in 9 (20%) apps. Five (10%) apps provided an area for patients to store or enter their asthma action plan.

Conclusions: This study used a unique checklist developed based on the GINA guidelines to evaluate the content alignment of asthma apps. Good-quality asthma apps aligned with international best practice asthma guidelines are lacking. Future app development should target the currently lacking key features identified in this study, including the use of asthma action plans and the deployment of behavioral change techniques to engage and re-engage with users. This study has implications for clinicians navigating the ever-expanding mHealth app market for chronic diseases.

Trial registration: PROSPERO CRD42021269894; https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=269894.

International registered report identifier (irrid): RR2-10.2196/33103.

Keywords: app; apps; asthma; best practices; chronic disease; compliance; evaluation; guideline; guidelines; mHealth; mobile; mobile health; mobile phone; quality; respiratory; review methodology; review of apps; smartphone; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma* / therapy
  • Australia
  • Checklist
  • Consensus
  • Humans
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic