Not all cancer self-management apps are equally beneficial to patients, a new study has found. Commonly these apps had content that included educational or informational behavior change techniques (BCTs) but lacked information and subjective quality.
“Experts recommend that self-management support take a stepped care approach and begin with providing widely available, ‘low-touch’ interventions to all patients,” study researchers wrote. “One promising strategy for disseminating self-management interventions is through mobile health (mHealth) technologies such as mobile apps.”
With this analysis, the researchers assessed cancer self-management apps and rated the quality using the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS). They also evaluated BCTs, which “are a standardized approach to describing behavioral intervention content and include theory-based strategies that reflect the smallest observable and replicable behavioral intervention components,” using Abraham and Michie’s taxonomy of 26 BCTs.
The analysis included 39 apps with an average of 5.85 BCTs and 3.54 cancer management BCTs.
Three-quarters of the cancer management BCTs were included in at least one app, with most apps commonly including “provide information about behavior health link.” The other cancer management BCTs included were “provide instruction” (72%), “provide information on consequences” (69%), “plan social support or social change” (44%), “prompt self-monitoring of behavior” (41%), “provide contingent rewards” (21%), “stress management” (15%), and “teach to use prompts or cures” (10%).
Based on these findings, the researchers recommended that “health care professionals considering apps in their evidence-based practice select apps that incorporate both educational/informational and noneducational/informational BCTs relevant to the target behavior(s) and mechanism(s) of action.”
In addition, the analysis revealed that the overall app quality range was 1.69-4.20. None had excellent quality, demonstrating that “there remain opportunities to advance app quality and content.”
The researchers acknowledged that this analysis did not look at app efficacy.