'Hundreds' of diabetes apps haven't proven successful health outcomes, HHS agency finds

Only a handful of smartphone apps targeted toward diabetes patients have been studied, according to a recent report out of HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

For the report, researchers conducted an evidence review of roughly 280 commercially available apps used to support patients' self-management of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The apps tended to advertise services to help patients track blood glucose, medication use, physical activity and weight.

The researchers found only 11 of the apps had been researched, according to study results published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine May 8. Of these 11 apps, only five were associated with clinically significant improvements in levels of blood glucose control as measured by hemoglobin A1c tests. However, the researchers noted "none of the included studies are considered to be high quality."

The researchers concluded evidence is lacking on whether diabetes self-management apps promote long-term health outcomes, such as improvements in patients' quality of life, weight, blood pressure and body mass index. They noted evaluations of the 11 studied apps were relatively short, and averaged less than a year in length.

"Because diabetes patients rely on these apps to manage their health, and so many apps have not yet been studied, there is a compelling need for improvement," AHRQ Director Gopal Khanna said in a May 9 statement. "Not only is this report beneficial for diabetes patients, but it's a call-to-action to the research community that we need more evidence on whether these apps and others actually improve health."

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