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Making sense of mobile apps for asthma self-management

Published online: April 4, 2019

Mobile health (mHealth) apps have the potential to facilitate asthma self-management by including medication reminders, allowing self-monitoring of symptoms, improving access and quality of information communicated with provider, and providing educational resources to patients and parents. Effective self-management interventions often incorporate a combination of evidence-based behavior change techniques. Although many apps exist for asthma management, the extent to which evidence-based behavior change strategies are included in these apps has not been examined.

In a recently published article in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Ramsey et al. reviewed the content and quality of mHealth asthma management apps that are available to patients. Apps were identified through systematic searches of the Apple app and Google Play stores. These apps were coded by trained raters to evaluate the inclusion of evidence-based behavior change techniques (BCTs). Examples of BCTs include providing information about behavior-health link, identifying barriers to performing health behaviors, and prompting self-monitoring of behaviors. The quality of the apps was also rated using the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS) to determine app engagement, functionality, aesthetics, information quality, and subjective quality.

The final list of 23 apps ranged from 1 BCT to 11 BCTs. The most commonly included BCTs in asthma management apps were instruction, behavior-health link, self-monitoring, feedback, teach to use prompts/cues, consequences, and others’ approval. Three apps used at least 8 BCTs (i.e., AsthmaMD, KissmyAsthma, and My Breathefree). The overall quality of the apps ranged from 2.45 to 4.50 (out of a possible 5). Four apps had an overall MARS quality of >4.0 (AsthmaMD, Asthma Health Storylines, KissmyAsthma, and Wizdy Pets: Kids’ Asthma Game).

Asthma-management apps should include multiple BCTs and have a high quality rating. KissmyAsthma and AsthmaMD were the asthma-management apps with the highest number of BCTs and quality scores. These findings can be utilized to help clinicians make recommendations for asthma management apps based on quality and inclusion of evidenced-based behavior change techniques.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice is an official journal of the AAAAI, focusing on practical information for the practicing clinician.