Suspended clinical trial 'underscores pitfalls' of utilizing mHealth apps

A clinical trial, set to evaluate the effectiveness of mobile health (mHealth) applications in supporting patients’ health management, was suspended due to a lack of participation. Researchers of the study, which was published in JMIR Human Factors, explained the effect of outside factors on mHealth utilization and provided recommendations for improved use.

This study first aimed to provide evidence to the effectiveness of mHealth in improving patient outcomes. The study required patients to enter clinical data into the app, where they would then receive supporting messages regarding self-care from providers. However, after four months of recruitment, the study was suspended due to low enrollment and inconsistent use of mHealth.

In response, researchers conducted interviews of patients and staff involved in the trial to gauge why mHealth utilization was so low. Researchers found a lack of time for staff to explain how to use the app. Additionally, the lack of interoperability of data with patient electronic health records (EHRs) was stated as the main problem for both patients and staff, stating the app was just “one more thing to attend to.”

“This brief trial underscores the pitfalls in the utilization of mHealth apps,” concluded first author Kathleen Thies, RN, PhD, and colleagues. “Effective use of mHealth tools requires a good fit between the app, the users’ electronic health (eHealth) literacy, the treatment approach, staff time, and reimbursement for services. The last three are contextual factors of the setting that affected the adoption of the app and context is an important factor in implementation science. We recommend that researchers address contextual factors in the trial and adoption of mHealth technologies.”