Dec 2 2013
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Recommended Reading: Effectiveness of Public Health Smartphone Apps

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As smartphone technology becomes ever more ubiquitous and the dangers of tobacco become ever more apparent, it's not surprising that there are 414 quit-smoking apps available between iPhones and Androids, with Androids alone seeing about 700,000 downloads of these apps each month.

There's no question that these apps are in demand in the United States, where an estimated 11 million smokers own a smartphone and more than half of smokers in 2010 tried to quit.

The question is: Are they effective?

According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the answer is too often "no," with many of the most popular apps failing to employ and advocate known and successful anti-tobacco strategies.

"Quit-smoking apps are an increasingly available tool for smokers," said lead author Lorien Abroms, ScD, an associate professor of Prevention and Community Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), according to Health Canal. "Yet our study suggests these apps have a long way to go to comply with practices that we know can help people stub out that last cigarette."

The study looked at the 50 top anti-smoking apps for both iPhones and Androids, analyzing their tactics on a number of fronts, including how well they aligned with guidelines from the U.S. Public Health Service on treating tobacco use. The review found serious issues with the apps' advice, especially concerning clinical practices. It found that:

  • Most lacked basic advice on how to quit smoking and did not help people establish a "quit plan"
  • None recommend calling a quit-line, which can more than double the chances of successfully quitting tobacco
  • Fewer than one in 20 of the apps recommended medications, even though studies show how nicotine replacement therapy can help curb cravings

Taken together these, last two findings are especially troubling, as their pairing has been found to more than triple the chances of a person successfully breaking their nicotine addiction. One of the biggest takeaways from the study, according to Abroms, is that while quit-smoking apps can be important components of a larger plan to quit smoking, there might also be a simpler way to use those fancy smartphones.

"They should simply pick up their smartphone and call a quit-line now to get proven help on how to beat a tobacco addiction."

And the lack of adequate advice and guidance isn't limited to quit-smoking apps. A study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that while apps remain popular, they also remain limited.

"It clearly demonstrated that, to date, most efforts in app development have been in the overall wellness category with diet and exercise apps accounting for the majority available. An assessment finds that healthcare apps available today have both limited and simple functionality--the majority do little more than provide information.

Read the full story at Health Canal.

>>Bonus content: Read the previous NewPublicHealth post, "Public Health: There's An App For That"

>>Bonus link: Mobile Health and FDA Guidance

>>Bonus links: Here's a quick look at a few of the newest apps designed to improve public health in a variety of ways:

  • My Health Apps offers a vast array of apps, sorted by categories such as "Mental Health," "Me and My Doctor" and "Staying Healthy"
  • Hula, which helps people find STD testing, get the results on their phone and even share verified results
  • My Fitness Pal, which combines guidance and community to help people lose weight
  • Planned Parenthood offers a series of teen-focused apps on important issues such as birth control, condoms and even substance abuse

Tags: Tobacco cessation, Tobacco, Addiction, Tobacco, Recommended Reading, Technology