BACKGROUND: This paper presents an approach to assist health professionals in recommending high quality apps for supporting chronic disease self-management. Most app reviews focus on popularity, aesthetics, functionality, usability, and information quality. There is no doubt these factors are important in selecting trustworthy apps which are appealing to users, but behavioral theory may be also be useful in matching the apps to user needs.
OBJECTIVE: The framework developed aims to be methodologically sound, capable of selecting popular apps which include content covered by evidence-based programs, consistent with behavioral theory, as well as a patient-centered approach for matching apps to patients' individual needs.
METHODS: A single disease-type 2 diabetes-was selected to illustrate how the framework can be applied as this was deemed to represent the types of strategies used in many chronic diseases. A systematic approach based on behavioral theory and recommendations from best practice guidelines was developed for matching apps to patients' needs. In March 2014, a series of search strategies was used to identify top-rated iPhone and Android health apps, representing 29 topics from five categories of type 2 diabetes self-management strategies. The topics were chosen from published international guidelines for the management of diabetes. The senior author (KH) assessed the most popular apps found that addressed these topics using the Behavioral Theory Content Survey (BTS), which is based on traditional behavioral theory. A tool to assist decision making when using apps was developed and trialed with health professionals for ease of use and understanding.
RESULTS: A total of 14 apps were assessed representing all five topic categories of self-management. Total theoretical scores (BTS scores) were less than 50 on a 100-point scale for all apps. Each app scored less than 50% of the total possible BTS score for all four behavioral theories and for most of the 20 behavioral strategies; however, apps scored higher than 50% of the total possible BTS score for specific strategies related to their primary focus. Our findings suggest that the apps studied would be more effective when used in conjunction with therapy than as stand-alone apps. Apps were categorized according to topic and core intervention strategies. A framework for matching apps to identified patient needs was developed based on app categorization and principles of patient-centered care. The approach was well accepted and understood by a convenience sample of health practitioners.
CONCLUSIONS: The framework presented can be used by health practitioners to better match apps with client needs. Some apps incorporate highly interactive strategies of behavioral theory, and when used as an adjunct may increase patient participation and the effectiveness of therapy.