Evaluating mHealth Apps for Education and Clinical Practice: Translating the MARS Tool

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Mobile health care technology has made numerous strides over the past decade. These technologies include a variety of sophisticated informatics tools, including mobile applications for providers, educators, and patients, telehealth tools for remote monitoring and access to care, and clinical decision-making tools. Use of these tools allows for improved outcomes, decreased health care costs, and improved client satisfaction. 

As this technology continues to improve, more and more patients are utilizing mobile health applications (mHealth apps) to monitor their health and wellness. Accurate health information can empower patients to take charge of their own disease management and play a key role in their care. Mobile technology has now reached a tipping point, with more devices, such as smartphones and tablets, in use than traditional computers. These mobile technologies can be a catalyst for disease self-management, allowing patients to play a significant role in their health care.

Because smartphone usage seems ubiquitous, some may assume mHealth apps are also used by most individuals. Clinicians and students often use them to access up-to-date clinical information, and some patients use them to improve their health and wellness. Krebsand colleagues’ cross-sectional survey of over 1,600 mobile phone users in the US found that roughly half had downloaded a health-related mobile app, but approximately half of those had stopped using the app due to time factors, costs, and loss of interest. This indicates a perfect combination of factors in place for which clinicians can recommend apps:

  1. Clinicians are very busy and seek to empower their patients to employ self-management apps for chronic disease management,
  2. Patients have and use mobile devices, and
  3. We know the characteristics of apps that will help patients maintain their behavior changes.

How do clinicians know which apps to recommend?

When clinicians choose to recommend an app for patient healthcare improvement, it is helpful to know the quality of the app and whether it will be one that leads to retained behavior change. The clinician may also consider whether the app has associated costs of time or money and whether the benefit of usage outweighs these costs.

One tool clinicians can use is the Mobile Application Rating Scale (MARS), developed to measure the quality of mHealth appsbased on five key quality areas: engagement, functionality, aesthetics, information, and subjective quality. The MARS provides quantitative data for ranking mHealth apps to assist clinicians, educators, and students in choosing appropriate technologies for the management of an illness.

You can learn more about how to evaluate mHealth apps at the upcoming ACNM 66th Annual Meeting, held virtually May 23 – 25, 2021.