There’s little evidence that mHealth apps are effective

  • Out of the hundreds of thousands of mHealth apps on the market, the effectiveness of only 22 has been evaluated in the last decade, per a study published in Nature.
  •  mHealth platforms could cause more harm than good to providers and payers that choose to use them to improve consumer health.
  •  JMIR published a meta-analysis revealing that while fitness apps modestly increased physical activity, the average step count between app users and nonusers was nonsignificant.

Consumer-focused fitness apps have taken the consumer world by storm, with over 300,000 on the market today. A 2016 Gfk survey found that a third of internet-connected people worldwide track their health and fitness via an online or mobile app or a wearable. 

However, research continues to vary on the effectiveness of these platforms. The researchers of the JMIR study wrote that this is “to the best of our knowledge” the first published meta-analysis that researches the effectiveness of app-based physical activity interventions.

In addition, a recent analysis of mobile health (mHealth) apps found their data-sharing practices to be excessive, which creates privacy risks that should make providers wary about prescribing mHealth apps to their patients, per a British Medical Journal study. Researchers looked at 24 top-rated mHealth apps and found that 79% shared user data with a total of 55 entities, including app developers, their parent companies, and third parties.

The mHealth Scam

For technology to make a measurable impact on patient health, there should be a commensurate clinical benefit. So far, doctors have not been impressed with the so-called benefits of mHealth and, in fact, many question studies that support their use.

A great example is the Apple Watch study on AFIB. According to STAT news “it’s a purely observational study designed to see whether the Apple Watch’s heart pulse monitor can identify people who have a-fib. But because the study does not contain a control arm, it can’t say what might have happened to a similar group of 400,000 people who did not use the Apple Watch. The study will, therefore, be a rich source of anecdotes but, as good scientists know, anecdotes aren’t data”.

Lost in all the hype around mHealth are patients who may be using mHealth apps and devices instead of going to the doctor. Such delays could cost them critical time, and money, in treatment options.

mHeatlt should be called what it is “part of total treatment plan for patients and HCP’s”. There is just too much hype right now to see that.