Study: Health apps near meaningless for low-income patients with chronic conditions

Health apps intended to help individuals manage chronic health issues were found to be rather ineffective for low-income patients, racially/ethnically diverse populations, according to new research in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco sought to understand the usability of patient-facing mobile health applications for patients with diabetes and depression, as well as apps for caregivers. The small study included interviewing and observing how 26 participants used health apps geared toward their specific condition.

Participants were given tasks to complete with the health apps, such as entering blood glucose values into an app for diabetes management. However, almost all participants were unable to productively use the applications, according to a report from UCSF. Across all the apps, participants were only able to complete 51 percent of data entry tasks, and participants could only access data from those apps 43 percent of the time.

Through observation and interviewing participants, researchers extracted three themes: Participants demonstrated a lack of confidence with the technology, they were frustrated with the app's design features and navigation, but they were also interested in having technology to support their self-management.

"We've seen a recent glut of mobile apps that are meant to help people monitor their fitness levels and enhance their health," said Urmimala Sarkar, MD, associate professor of medicine at UCSF and lead study author. "But many of the patients we see at Zuckerberg San Francisco General — who have serious, and often multiple health problems — don't appear to be able to use or access this technology. And they're the ones who have the most to gain from these advances."

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