mHealth diabetes apps fail to show improvements in patient quality of life

  • None of the studies showed patient improvements in quality of life, blood pressure, weight, or body mass index. More rigorous and longer-term research studies could determine whether apps help people manage their diabetes and reduce complications.
  • Some apps for diabetes self-management may improve outcomes in the short-term, but the effect cannot be distinguished from the concomitant effect of additional support from a health care provider.

Since 2014, roughly $16 billion in venture funding has been invested across 800-plus companies in the digital health space. If the investors of these companies were to generate the returns they are expecting, we would need to triple the public market cap of the health IT space by 2021. These are unrealistic expectations that have created an unhealthy environment for tech-enabled health care start-ups and the entrepreneurs that lead them. Only recently have the VC unicorn watchers across the blogosphere begun to question we aren’t seeing the billion-dollar success stories from other industries replicated in HCIT (health care info tech), exposing underlying concerns that threaten the return profiles of overcapitalized digital health portfolios.

The only thing that has grown faster than dollars invested in digital health has been the hype surrounding it – with conferences, blogs, incubators and Twitter handles springing up everywhere. While primarily differentiated from stodgy HCIT by the average age of its practitioners, digital health has brought two important developments to the industry: a pervasive optimism that health care services problems could be solved with better technology and a keen proficiency at venture capital fundraising.

According to JMIR “although mHealth is growing in popularity, the evidence for efficacy is still limited.  In general, the methodological quality of the studies included in the systematic reviews is low. For some fields, its impact is not evident, the results are mixed, or no long-term studies exist. Exceptions include the moderate quality evidence of improvement in asthma patients, attendance rates, and increased smoking abstinence rates.

So what’s going on here?

1ne: We are in the hype phase of mHealth.  Expect to see a lot more articles on “great apps” and “tele health” but very few studies on their utility with patients.

2wo: Wearables are making inroads with patients, but most HCP’s still don’t trust the data they collect and order real medical tests.

3hree: Too much venture capital money flowing with too little return.

4our: Will patients use them as they are designed or will they ditch them?

5ive: Utility will be varied by health condition.

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