Phone apps mislead eczema sufferers

More than a third of phone apps currently available to help eczema sufferers manage their skin do not comply with international treatment guidelines, according to a new study.

Led by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, the study also found that none of the apps fulfil “the complete set of criteria for educational information, tracking functions or health information principles” as set out by the guidelines.

Lead author Associate Professor Josip Car said the study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, highlights the need for mechanisms and guidelines to ensure app quality, and to guide personalised app selection for patients, caregivers and doctors.

Associate Professor Car said eczema management apps have great potential to lead to better patient care and self-management of eczema, provided that appropriate measures are taken to improve the quality standards.

“Smartphone apps have emerged as a novel approach to support the self-management of conditions that require long-term care, such as eczema but our research shows that there is a large variance in the quality of eczema apps,” he said.

“While the assessed eczema self-management apps had shortcomings, certain apps did provide appropriate functions with accurate information and comprehensive tracking of eczema-related factors.”

In the study, the NTU-led team assessed 98 apps for eczema management ‒ 67 in English, 22 in Chinese and nine in Spanish ‒ using international eczema guidelines from Singapore, UK, US, Argentina and China.

Eight per cent of the apps provided educational information, 39 per cent provided tracking functions, and 13 per cent provided both.

The study found that 34 per cent of the apps providing information that was not in agreement with international guidelines, only 15 per cent provided information supported by international guidelines on pharmacological therapies and 16 per cent on non-pharmacological therapies.

None of the included apps complied with all criteria for educational information, tracking functions or health information principles – and 11 percent of the apps failed to mention mainstay therapies such as the use of emollients and moisturisers.

Assoc Prof Car concluded that the most useful way to address the issues raised in the study might be to publish a list of recommended apps to aid clinicians in suggesting the appropriate options for eczema patients and caregivers.

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