How a health app rating system could encourage clinician uptake

Researchers created a health app rating system aimed at helping clinicians find high-quality tools to recommend to their patients, according to a development study published in JMIR.

The App Rating Inventory, which was built by the Defense Health Agency’s Connected Health branch, scores apps in three categories: evidence, content and customizability. All 28 items in the system are weighted equally and the scoring system is binary, meaning the app either has a specific feature or it doesn’t. The final score is the sum of the three categories.

“The category and final scores derived from the rating system inform the clinician about whether an app is evidence informed and easy to use,” the study’s authors Rachel Mackey, Ann Gleason and Robert Ciulla wrote.

“Although a rating allows a clinician to make focused decisions about app selection in a context where thousands of apps are available, clinicians must weigh the following factors before integrating apps into a treatment plan: clinical presentation, patient engagement and preferences, available resources and technology expertise.”

WHY IT MATTERS

The researchers argue there aren’t enough guidelines to help providers determine which apps are useful for their patients. Meanwhile, there are a huge number of apps to sort through; a report from the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science last year found more than 350,000 digital health apps are available to consumers.

“The lack of guidelines and the time it takes to vet apps to find those most suited for clinical presentation have the potential to deter clinicians from integrating mobile apps into patient care and clinical practice,” the study’s authors wrote.

THE LARGER TREND

While developing and evaluating the app rating system, the researchers gained several takeaways about the quality and usefulness of health apps.

Though popularity isn’t completely reliable, it can be an important signal when evaluating health apps. Users may not be assessing the therapeutic quality of the app when rating it on Apple’s App Store or Google Play, but it does show the app is probably consistently updated and contains engaging features.

Another important consideration is whether the app includes dynamic and interactive content, like push notifications and information that changes as users complete their goals. Using apps can also improve the patient experience by meeting them where they are and improving their adherence to treatment.

However, researchers noted it’s common for health apps to not fulfill the promises made in the apps’ descriptions. For instance, many apps will advertise as free, but actually require payment to access most of the content.

Some health apps can also spread inaccurate or harmful information, another reason why it’s necessary for clinicians to evaluate them before making recommendations to patients.

“In summary, scoring systems provide guidance and filter down an exhaustive list of health apps in a given category to a handful for consideration,” the authors wrote. “Indeed, apps are not new medicines; in many cases, they are novel delivery systems for proven interventions.”

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