The Longevity

Researchers Questioning Reliability of Many Diabetes Apps

September 11, 2017 | Care Guidance, Medication Management

According to University of Florida researchers, there are at least 120 free patient apps for managing diabetes, but most are not yet reliable in terms of either information or quality. 

[Study author Francois Modave of the University of Florida in Gainesville] and [his] colleagues used the Mobile App Rating Scale to analyze and rank the top free apps for diabetes management. They also looked at the number of diabetes-specific management tasks that the apps included, such as physical activity, nutrition, blood glucose testing, medication and insulin dosage, health feedback, and education.

In June 2016, the researchers identified 120 free patient apps for Android and Apple devices and evaluated 89 that were in English and didn’t require subscriptions. Overall, the apps scored high on aesthetics and engagement but poorly on information and quality. Only four of the 89 apps integrated the six diabetes management tasks, and fewer than half the apps integrated four tasks.

“App manufacturers want to produce good information, but there’s no oversight from any health organization or agency,” . 

With roughly 29 million Americans managing diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there is an enormous market for these apps. And at least a few of those surveyed performed well.

The top free apps, according to the researchers, were Tactio Health: My Connected Health Logbook for iOS devices and American Association of Diabetes Educators Diabetes Goal Tracker for Android devices. The Accu-Chek 360 Diabetes Management for Android was also a top app but has been discontinued; in its place is a new program (which the researchers didn’t analyze) called Accu-Chek Connect.

Despite the relatively poor performance by the majority of these diabetes management apps, research shows that their ease of use is promising.

“In the clinic, patients sometimes forget to bring their meter, but they always have their phone,” said Helen Fu of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who studies patients’ use of diabetes apps but who wasn’t involved in Modave’s research.

Another advantage of phones over glucose meters is that “meter reports often come out as PDFs, which you can’t track or search well in an electronic health record,” she told Reuters Health by phone.

One thing is certain: entrepreneurs will continue to tackle diabetes through tech until they get it right.

Dr. Nana Hempler of the Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen in Denmark, who has also studied apps for diabetics but wasn’t involved with this study, told Reuters Health by phone, “Patients also want to know about their mood, stress, sleep problems and well-being, which aren’t very common in most diabetes apps.”

Dr. Sarah Bigi of Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, Italy, who wasn’t involved with this study, is testing a new messaging app for patients with diabetes at two hospitals in Italy.

“We’re interested in how verbal communication can enhance self-management,” Bigi told Reuters Health by email. “I think we have to devote major consideration to this aspect when we assess mobile technology.”

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