Science or Snake Oil: Systematic Search of iPhone and Android Mobile Apps for Psychosocial Wellness and Stress Management.

Author: Lau N1,2, O'Daffer A2, Colt S2, Yi-Frazier JP2, Palermo TM3,4, McCauley E1,4, Rosenberg AR2,5,6
Author Information:
1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington School of Medicine, 1900 Ninth AveJMB 10-C, Seattle, US.
2Palliative Care and Resilience Lab, Center for Clinical and Translational Research, Seattle Children's Research Institute, Seattle, US.
3Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, US.
4Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development, Seattle Children's Research Institute, 2001 8th Ave #400, Seattle, US.
5Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence, University of Washington, Seattle, US.
6Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, US.
Conference/Journal: JMIR Mhealth Uhealth.
Date published: 2020 Mar 22
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.2196/17798. [Epub ahead of print] , Word Count: 332


BACKGROUND: In an oversaturated market of publicly available mobile apps for psychosocial self-care and stress management, health care providers, patients, and consumers interested in mental health-related apps may wonder which, if any, are efficacious. Readily available metrics for consumers include user popularity and media buzz rather than scientific evidence.

OBJECTIVE: This systematic review aimed to (1) examine the breadth of therapeutic contents and features of psychosocial wellness and stress management apps available to self-help seekers for public download and (2) determine which of these apps have original research support.

METHODS: First, we conducted a systematic review of publicly available apps on the iPhone App Store (Apple Inc) and Android Google Play (Google LLC) platforms using conventional self-help-seeking search terms related to wellness and stress. The results were limited to English-language apps available for free download. In total, 2 reviewers independently evaluated all apps and discussed the findings to reach 100% consensus regarding inclusion. Second, a literature review was conducted on the included apps to identify supporting studies with original data collection.

RESULTS: We screened 3287 apps and found 1009 psychosocial wellness and stress management apps. Content varied widely. The most common evidence-based strategy was mindfulness-meditation, followed by positive psychology and goal setting. Most apps were intended to be used as self-help interventions, with only 1.09% (11/1009) involving an electronic therapist and 1.88% (19/1009) designed as a supplement to in-person psychotherapy. Only 4.66% (47/1009) of apps targeted individuals with psychological disorders, and less than 1% of apps (6/1009, 0.59%) targeted individuals with other chronic illnesses. Approximately 2% (21/1009, 2.08%) were supported by original research publications, with a total of 25 efficacy studies and 10 feasibility studies. The Headspace mindfulness app had the most evidence, including 8 efficacy studies. Most other scientifically backed apps were supported by a single feasibility or efficacy study.

CONCLUSIONS: Only 2.08% (21/1009) of publicly available psychosocial wellness and stress management mobile apps discoverable to self-help seekers have published, peer-reviewed evidence of feasibility and/or efficacy. Clinicians and investigators may use these findings to help patients and families navigate the volume of emerging digital health interventions for stress management and wellness.

PMID: 32357125 DOI: 10.2196/17798

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