Few Mobile Apps for Obstetrician/Gynecologists Look Promising

Ken Terry

October 15, 2014

Less than 15% of the mobile apps in the iTunes store related to women's health issues are potentially useful to obstetrician/gynecologists, according to a study published online October 6 in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Authors Sara Farag, MD, Kathy Chyjek, MD, and Katherine T. Chen, MD, MPH, from the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, propose that an influential obstetrician/gynecologist organization, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), form a review committee to evaluate mobile apps pertinent to the specialty.

"[A]n organized effort to identify, review, and determine the accuracy of apps...can potentially improve the performance of health care providers and lead to better patient outcomes," they write.

The researchers limited their search to the 20,000 medical apps in the iTunes store, partly because previous research suggests that 85% of providers have an iPhone or an iPad. Among those apps, they identified 1816 that used obstetrics/gynecology-related MeSH terms. On closer review, they found that just 242 (13%) apps were potentially useful.

According to the authors, "Apps were considered potentially useful if they were apps ob-gyns could use to assist with providing patient care such as Interactive databases, Topic-Specific, Journals, Dictionaries, Sonographer-Centered, Search Engines, Books, Pregnancy Wheels, Calculators, Risk Assessments, Guideline-Specific, Patient Trackers, Sponsored Education, and Provider-Centered Simulators."

They eliminated most apps (1180) because they used nonclinical jargon and were clearly oriented to consumers. Dr Chen, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Medscape Medical News that the authors did not consider whether some consumer apps might be useful in patient education. However, she said, she would recommend that the proposed review committee evaluate some of those apps.

The researchers excluded other apps from their list of potentially valuable programs because they were not in English or because they featured games, ads, or descriptions of commercial products such as devices.

Most of the apps containing the search term "pregnancy" were consumer-related. Only 5.5% of the apps related to that term were considered useful to obstetrician/gynecologists.

No apps were discovered in a number of areas, including some kinds of gynecological cancer, infertility, perinatology, and induction of labor. Either those apps had not been developed, Dr Chen explained, or the authors had been unable to identify them using iTunes' "literal" search engine. Unlike the concept-based search engines of Google and Yahoo, iTunes searches for keywords, for example, only in the order in which they are listed, she said.

In addition to identifying and reviewing potentially useful apps, she noted, an obstetrician/gynecologist review committee might encourage commercial developers to build these apps. If they were not interested, she said, somebody in the field of obstetrics/gynecology might want to write these programs, and ACOG might disseminate them for free.

Asked how many obstetrician/gynecologists have the requisite skills to do this, she replied, "You'd be surprised at the talents of the millennial generation."

In a JAMA commentary written earlier this year, Adam C. Powell, PhD, president of Payer+Provider Syndicate in Boston, Massachusetts, and coauthors proposed having multiple review organizations evaluate "the most widely used and clinically useful apps" of the estimated 40,000 health-related apps on the market. The reviewers could cite published evidence and possibly rank apps on the basis of their clinical efficacy, they write, adding that the reviews might also certify that mobile apps are not harmful and have no security or privacy issues.

In an interview with Medscape Medical News, Dr Powell praised the proposal of Dr Chen and colleagues. "Given the domain-specific knowledge necessary to review some types of apps, it makes sense for medical professionals to participate in the review process," he said. "For instance, PsyberGuide has devoted a whole website to the review of psychiatric apps. I agree that there may be a benefit to having a group of obstetricians and gynecologists review apps pertinent to their specialty as well. Nonetheless, due to the substantial number of apps, it may be necessary to also explore automated means of reviewing them."

It should be noted that PsyberGuide is a website dedicated to providing information to consumers, not physicians. Dr Chen said she was unaware of any specialty society that has set up a formal process to review mobile health apps for its members.

The authors all own Apple iOS products but do not own stocks or receive royalties from Apple. Dr Powell has reported receiving personal fees from mHealthCoach and Verbal Applications.

Obstet Gynecol. Published online October 6, 2014. Abstract

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