Public health

Most back pain apps offer little value

Wednesday, 5 Jul 2017

Smartphone apps for treating back pain are generally of poor quality and have not been rigorously evaluated, Sydney researchers claim.

In a study led by postdoctoral research fellow Dr Gustavo Machado from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health researchers reviewed 61 current apps that were specifically designed to help people self-manage their back pain.

The researchers evaluated each app for quality of content, functionality, and whether they recommended evidence-based interventions.

They found that the apps generally offered “questionable and poor quality information, lacked engaging and customisable features, and had poor visual appeal and questionable credibility.”

“Developers usually claim that consumers could rapidly improve their back pain symptoms by following their exercise programs. However, none of the apps have been directly tested for their effectiveness, and only very few provide the educational content and information that is key to guideline recommendations,” Dr Machado said.

He noted that consumers often relied on in-app or online user ratings and reviews to select an app, but the study found that this information was not associated with app quality.

“Treatment guidelines often recommend self-management for the symptoms of back pain, and mobile apps can represent a useful and convenient way to help people manage their own condition, however, consumers need to be aware that there is minimal regulatory control over their content,” Dr Machado said.

Senior author Associate Professor Steven Kamper from Sydney Medical School said: “App developers need to work closely with healthcare professionals, researchers, and patients to ensure app content is accurate, evidence based, and engaging to improve the quality of existing apps for low back pain.”

“They also need to devise ways to appropriately evaluate these emerging technologies to ensure that they are beneficial to patients,” he said.

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