Current mobile health apps available for managing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have limited accessibility features and provide a narrow user experience, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology. The future direction of mobile health apps for chronic diseases should educate patients on disease management and optimize patient engagement through symptom and quality-of-life tracking.

Researchers performed a systematic review of mobile health apps that are publically available and exclusively target individuals with RA to characterize current app features and identify areas for improvement.

Study investigators searched and downloaded apps from the iTunes and Google Play app stores that included the term “arthritis” in their descriptions, specifically looking for mention of RA. The study identified 20 apps intended for use by patients with RA. While no validated set of measures for assessing quality in mobile health apps currently exists, these measures were determined through literature reviews of apps for managing chronic diseases. Each app was assessed using 4 key features to measure quality: basic characteristics (primary purpose, interface format), functionality, content source (developer affiliation, provider involvement), and security.

The purpose of each app was divided into 3 groups: 10 (50%) only offered symptom tracking features, 5 (25%) only provided information about the disease, and 5 (25%) provided both symptom tracking and educational content. Five apps (25%) had static interfaces, 5 (25%) allowed data input but without contextual information, and 10 (50%) presented relevant information along with interactive data-entry capabilities. Apps with symptom tracking (n=15) were assessed for further functionalities: 13 (87%) generated graphs from self-reported data and 10 (67%) linked the user to an educational website. Less than half of all the apps enabled direct contact to healthcare providers or online patient communities. Eleven (55%) apps included a privacy policy statement and 14 (70%) offered disclosures, but only 6 apps (30%) had password-protected security features.

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A limitation of the study was that only mobile apps that were publically available were included in the assessment, and apps used for research were not evaluated. Other limitations included the absence of validated guidelines for assessing mobile health app efficacy and quality and the inability to examine whether the apps actually functioned as advertised, as the investigators did not track symptoms or input data over time.

Researchers concluded that most current apps for managing RA did not provide a comprehensive experience for patients and lacked accessibility features such as reminders and notifications, background data collection, and methods that protect the patients’ health information. Optimal management of chronic disease apps should focus on symptom tracking and educating users about management strategies.

Reference

Luo D, Wang P, Lu F, Elias J, Sparks JA, Lee YC. Mobile apps for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis: A systematic review [published online June 21, 2018]. J Clin Rheumatol. doi: 10.1097/RHU.0000000000000800

This article originally appeared on Rheumatology Advisor