We lack apps for some of the most common illnesses in the world, such as anaemia, loss of hearing and poor sight

Autor: Adrià G.Font   /  7 d'octubre de 2013

Specifically, the most widely analysed mobile applications in the academic research published in the English language are directed at diabetes patients (140 articles), followed by those designed to deal with asthma and depression. There is a significant difference between the number of research works devoted to these three conditions and the rest of diseases (loss of hearing, poor sight, osteoarthritis, anaemia and migraine).

Diabetes is also the illness for which there are most free apps (in English) on the most important commercial apps platforms, with a total of some 1,700 applications. Depression, migraine and asthma are in second, third and fourth place, respectively. According to the study, Google Play is the shop that has most apps for the study illnesses, closely followed by iTunes. In third place there is Windows Phone Apps+Games.

Therefore, the distribution of research and commercialisation of mobile applications is heterogeneous for the eight most widespread health conditions. While patients of some illnesses such as diabetes and depression have a larger number of applications and greater research, there is a gap in apps related to health problems widespread around the world. A large part of cases of anaemia, for example are found in underdeveloped or developing countries, where the use of smartphones and tablets is still minority, which is why the developers and research have not shown so much interest.

On the other hand, there is a predominance of apps of pathologies associated with the lifestyles in developed areas, where there is great social awareness of these diseases. This, and the fact that there are more health apps available in the shops than in the scientific literature are indicators that today the development of mHealth responds more to a commercial and economic motivation than an academic.

The apps for Android and iOS are majority

A series of common characteristics can be described on the basis of the in-depth analysis of these apps. The majority of mHealth applications have been developed in order to allow supervision, to give support or to inform and educate on the disease. Generally no Internet connection is required to use them and most are aimed at the general public as they are designed for non-clinical use.

As for user interaction, most apps lacked this function, as they have been conceived for individual use. However, the apps of diseases that can improve through mutual collaboration between those affected or the members of the community, such as depression or diabetes, have modules to enable this interaction.

One aspect to be improved is data viewing, which is often something complex. The developers of apps prefer to show the data in texts followed by graphic representations and images. Furthermore, most creators choose to develop apps for the Android and iOS operating systems, followed at a distance by Windows Phone. A considerable lack of applications has also been noted for Blackberry devices.

As a future path, the authors of the study say that it is necessary to fill the gaps of mHealth applications observed for these diseases and devices. In fact, a new range of opportunities now opens up both for clinical researchers and developers.

Bibliographical reference

Martínez-Pérez, B; de la Torre-Díez, I; López-Coronado, M. Mobile Health Applications for the Most Prevalent Conditions by the World Health Organization: Review and Analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 14 June 2013 [access: 26 August 2013]. Available at: http://www.jmir.org/2013/6/e120/