How trustworthy are apps for maternal and child health?
Mobile technologies have become important tools for promoting and implementing healthcare. A key feature of smartphones and tablet computers is their ability to run software applications (apps), which can address specific health-related areas, including maternal and child health; however, there is little independent regulation or guidance for the development and publication of health apps in many countries, including Australia. This research examined health apps in two major app stores (Google and Apple) that address maternal and child health. Ten free maternal and child health apps available in Google and Apple stores were examined to evaluate their trustworthiness and technical performance. This was determined based on evidence of health professional involvement and use of evidence-based medical content, as well as an evaluation of functionality, usability and security. Only four of the ten apps examined were developed with the involvement of health professionals and four provided information from evidence-based medical content. Significantly, only four were fully functional, two were fully usable and three adequately implemented security mechanisms to guarantee privacy of user data. Two of the apps were inoperative. In conclusion, this study found great variation in the quality of content, functionality and security of ten maternal and child health apps. These results suggest developers, owners and health providers should work to improve maternal and child health apps, consumers need help to determine the trustworthiness of health apps, and sponsors and regulators should establish standards and endorse compliant health apps.
KeywordsmHealth Applications Apps Mobile Maternal Children
Conflict of interest
KS, GG, DR and PC declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Studies with humans and animals
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
- 3.Kay M, Santos J, Takane M. mHealth: new horizons for health through mobile technologies. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2011.Google Scholar
- 6.Mulvaney SA, Ho Y-X, Cala CM et al. Assessing adolescent asthma symptoms and adherence using mobile phones. J Med Internet Res. 2013;15(7).Google Scholar
- 8.Qiang CZ, Yamamichi M, Hausman V, Altman D, Unit IS. Mobile applications for the health sector. Washington: World Bank; 2011.Google Scholar
- 11.research2guidance. mHealth App Developer Economics: Fourth annual study on mHealth app publishing. 2014. [3 March 2015]; Available from: http://research2guidance.com/r2g/mHealth-App-Developer-Economics-2014.pdf.
- 13.Chouffani R. The different types of mobile health apps. Health IT Exchange 2011 [2 March 2015]; Avaiable from: http://searchhealthit.techtarget.com/healthitexchange/meaningfulhealthcareinformaticsblog/the-differenttypes-of-mobile-healthcare-apps/.
- 15.Liu C., et al. Design and implementation of a behavioral migraine management iPhone app for adolescents with migraine. in World of Wireless Mobile and Multimedia Networks (WoWMoM), 2010 I.E. International Symposium on a. 2010. IEEE.Google Scholar
- 18.Leroux E., Rivas H. Evidence-based mHealth [7 August 2014]. Available from: https://novoed.com/mhealth/reports/52109.
- 19.McCartney M. How do we know whether medical apps work? BMJ. 2013;346.Google Scholar
- 21.WHO. New horizons for health through mobile technologies. In: Global observatory for eHealth series. Geneva: World Health Organisation; 2011.Google Scholar
- 22.Kind T., Silber, T.J. Ethical issues in pediatric e-health. Clin Pediatr. 2004.Google Scholar
- 24.Gordon M.E. The history of app pricing, and why most apps are free. In: Flurry Blog M.E. Gordon, editor. 2013.Google Scholar
- 25.Sommerville I. Software engineering. Harlow: Addison-Wesley; 2010.Google Scholar
- 26.IEEE. IEEE recommended practice for software requirements specifications. New York: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc; 2009.Google Scholar
- 27.UsabilityNet. What is usability? 2006 [7 August 2014]; Available from: http://www.usabilitynet.org/management/b_what.htm.
- 28.Nielsen J. 10 Usability heuristics for user interface design. Nielsen Norman Group. 1995 [2 March 2015]; Available from: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/ten-usability-heuristics/.
- 29.BusinessDictionary. Business Dictionary. 2013 [7 August 2014]. Available from: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/reliability.html.
- 30.Rice K. What are the pros and cons to building an app for iOS? Mobile Backend as a Service (MBAAS) Blog. 2013 [3 March 2015]; Available: http://www.kinvey.com/blog/2360/what-are-the-pros-and-cons-to-building-an-app-for-ios.
- 31.Mack J. Reigning in the “wild west” of mobile health apps: will it be FDA regulation or self-regulation or both? Pharma Market News. 2013;12:1–7.Google Scholar
- 32.NHS. Health Apps Library. 2013 [9 February 2015]; Available from: http://apps.nhs.uk/.
- 33.PatientView. European directory of health apps 2012–2013. 2012 [9 February 2015]; Available from: http://www.patient-view.com/uploads/6/5/7/9/6579846/pv_appdirectory_final_web_300812.pdf.
- 34.FDA. Mobile medical applications: guidance for industry and food and drug administration staff. 2014 [9 February 2015]; Available from: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/MedicalDevices/DeviceRegulationandGuidance/GuidanceDocuments/UCM263366.pdf.
- 35.Leventhal R. Study: popular mobile health apps carry considerable privacy risks. 2013 [9 February 2015]; Available from: http://www.healthcare-informatics.com/news-item/study-popular-mobile-health-apps-come-considerable-privacy-risks.
- 36.Narisi S. Mobile health apps create privacy risk, study says. Healthcare Business and Technology 2013 [7 August 2014]; Available from: http://www.healthcarebusinesstech.com/mobile-health-apps-privacy/.
- 39.Walsh B. mHealth market poised for explosive growth. Clinical Innovation + Technology. 2013 [3 March 2015]; Available: http://www.clinical-innovation.com/topics/mobile-telehealth/mhealth-market-poised-explosive-growth.
- 41.research2guidance. Mobile Health Trends and Figures 2013 - 2017: The Commercialisation of Mobile Health Applications (vol. 3). 2013 [3 March 2015]; Available: http://www.research2guidance.com/shop/index.php/downloadable/download/sample/sample_id/290/.