In a new study, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that few of the commercially available apps to help diabetes patients have been evaluated thoroughly.
The AHRQ report found that only 11 such apps have been researched, and of these, only five were associated with clinically significant improvements in levels of blood sugar control as measured by hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) tests.
AHRQ-funded researchers sought to understand the effectiveness of roughly 280 apps that may be used to support patient self-management of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In addition to the five shown to improve levels of HbA1c, other apps studied were shown either to reduce episodes of blood sugar levels being too high or too low; reduce low blood sugar episodes while reducing triglyceride levels and improving treatment satisfaction; or improve blood glucose levels, diabetes knowledge and self-care behaviors.
In addition to the care that patients receive from their providers, diabetes patients often rely on mobile apps to improve and maintain their health. Common features of apps for diabetes self-management include the ability to measure HbA1c, as well capabilities to track short-term blood glucose levels, medications, physical activity and weight.
But the study noted that evidence is lacking on the ability of apps for diabetes self-management to improve patients’ quality of life, weight, blood pressure or body mass index, the report concluded.
“Although consumers have access to dozens of apps for diabetes management, only a handful of these technologies have been evaluated,” said AHRQ Director Gopal Khanna, M.B.A., in a prepared statement. “AHRQ’s report helps identify an important area where more research will help us understand how these apps can improve the health of people with diabetes.”
The published studies were relatively short in duration, lasting less than a year. AHRQ said that makes it unclear whether the apps would eventually impact longer-term health outcomes that often complicate diabetes patients’ health.
Researchers also tested the usability of apps and found that patients may have difficulty using some of them. In addition, some have questionable or non-existent privacy policies.
“The apps are only valuable if people can use them,” said Stephanie Chang, M.D., director of AHRQ’s Evidence-based Practice Center Program, in a statement. “Because apps like these are becoming part of everyday life, people should also be aware of who might eventually see their health care data and how it will be used.”
AHRQ’s report was developed through its Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) Program. EPC reports have informed more than 125 clinical guidelines, health coverage decisions and government policies and programs, and contribute to greater shared decision making between patients and their caregivers.