‘Junk’ apps for asthma

Wednesday, 15 Apr 2015

A comprehensive review of asthma apps has revealed a proliferation of commercially driven ones that make it hard for healthcare professionals and patients to filter out the ‘junk’.

The review by researchers from the Imperial College in London found that between 2011 and 2013 the number of asthma apps more than doubled from 93 to 191, despite a quarter of existing apps having been withdrawn from the market in the same time period.

Newer apps were no more likely than those available in 2011 to include comprehensive information, such as the use of action plans, or offer guidance consistent with evidence, the researchers reported in BMC Medicine.

For instance three quarters of inhaler training apps left out at least one step considered necessary for effective delivery of drug into the lungs.

A new finding concerned apps that repackaged existing information either to create content focused on promoting specific commercial products, or to serve as a more general vehicle for hosting adverts operating on a pay-per-click basis.

“This kind of low-quality information, coupled with high volume distribution and commercial motive, shares similarities with spam or junk email and websites,” they wrote. 

Accreditation programs may need to be supplemented by proactive intervention by regulators to address potentially unsafe apps and advice to help patients navigate the increasing numbers of poor quality or ‘junk’ apps for asthma in general app stores, they said.

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