Challenges of Finding Good Apps
Throughout this chapter, we saw that while mobile health tools can have much to offer, developing effective apps involves overcoming many challenges, and not all apps are created equal. How, then, is one to find good apps?
Searching App Stores
One way to look for apps is by searching app stores. Unfortunately, app stores are notoriously difficult to search. Unlike the web, which search engines search on the basis of all of their content, apps stores are searched on the basis of descriptor keywords provided by apps developers. Consequently, many relevant apps do not emerge among the top results unless very precise search terms are used.
Moreover, as mentioned above, outcomes of app store searches are difficult to evaluate, as they often provide little information about the developer’s health-related expertise, and the only apparent quality criteria are user ratings.
Asking a Doctor
Asking healthcare professionals for recommendations is a good idea, and if you are a healthcare professional, you probably want to be able to recommend apps to your patients. Unfortunately, providers are often reluctant to do that. According to a study by a consulting firm Manhattan Research (2014), only a third of doctors recommended that their patients use apps. Of those, a half did not recommend specific apps, but suggests searching app stores. This is not surprising: doctors’ do not have time to explore and vet apps. Holtz et al. (2019) comment that there is only limited research on primary care practitioners’ opinions of health tracking digital technologies; in contrast, the opinions of consumers have been much better investigated. Moreover, in today’s healthcare system, “prescribing” apps is not a reimbursable service, which limits doctors’ motivation and ability to recommend apps.
Advocacy organizations focused on particular diagnoses are good ways to find apps tailored to the needs of particular patient communities, as well as caregivers of those patients. These organizations publicize apps. Such apps are usually of high quality. For example, Read and Muza-Moons (2017) reviewed five apps dedicated to management of symptoms and community networking for people living with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis). Their review assigned the highest rating to GI Buddy, a free app from Crohns & Colitis Foundation of America.