Study looks at mobile medical app overload and has suggestions to correct the problem

Medical App Overload. Are we at that point? With a variety of reports on the number of mobile medical applications available, a recent article by Van velsen et al. argues that we are surrounded by a deluge of apps [1]. The authors lay out that there has been a substantial growth of mobile applications available. Along with this, an explosion of mobile medical applications has also followed.

However, this has created a sense of App Overload that now pervades the mobile app stores. The authors highlight the work of Mosa et al. which broke medical apps down into those for healthcare professionals, medical students, and for patients [2]. Thus, along with all these subtypes of medical apps, there is a large variety and number of apps available.

Key issues App Overload presents, according to the authors, include: (1) users have difficulty identifying the right app, and (2) overload causes a fragmentation of information/features over multiple apps [1]. As such, users may be disinclined to utilize mobile medical applications and become hesitant of their usage.

In order to combat this substantial growth of medical apps, the authors recommend two changes. First, apps should become gateway portals to quality-information that is open sourced. For instance, the authors suggest that information from the CDC should be utilized across multiple applications as open sourced information. Secondly, medical content should be standardized across mobile apps so that information follows the same content presentation. The authors’ example encompasses comparing two apps that go over tick removal, with one telling users what to do and another what not to do.

In many ways, Velsen et al. is an interesting piece on ways to tackle an overbearing number of medical apps currently available to health professionals and patients. However, some of the recommendations do not seem feasible with the current environment. Open sourced information is still at a limit whereby information shared can still be barred from general use.

However, I concur with the authors’ thoughts that major players (e.g. medical societies, government agencies) should take the lead in creating information for developers to use in their apps. As we have already noted multiple times, that information can be lacking at times to a worrying extent.

Lastly, standardizing medical content is its own conundrum, as it implies our own difficulty in medical practice adhering to evidence-based guidelines. While great strides have been made, the issue is that standardizing medical apps may pose the risk of decreasing information uniqueness or even the free reign of developers to create outside the box if it is limited in some ways. However, this needs to be part of the debate and considered if a standard is eventually placed on how information is to be presented in the future for mobile applications.

1. Van velsen L, Beaujean DJ, Van gemert-pijnen JE. Why mobile health app overload drives us crazy, and how to restore the sanity. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2013;13:23.
2. Mosa AS, Yoo I, Sheets L. A systematic review of healthcare applications for smartphones. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2012;12:67.


Timothy Aungst, PharmD

Digital Pharmacist seeking to integrate technology and mHealth into pharmacy practice and patient care. Assistant Professor by day, blogger and writer by night.

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8 Responses to Study looks at mobile medical app overload and has suggestions to correct the problem

  1. Gautam Gulati May 31, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Tim – great piece and very timely. We couldn’t agree more and is actually something we predicted long ago. What you have mentioned is exactly the reason we have built the new Omnio app ( to address these market and user concerns. Keeping up with 25% annual growth in medical apps and amount of information doubling every 18 months is only going to become a increasing challenge for medical professionals. Omnio is built on an infrastructure to allow open access and sharing of quality content from key partners such as medical orgs, health institutions, and other brand partners to deliver the information in a curated, organized, and digestible fashion to make it practical and clinical relevant for the end user. Using design principles, we are creating a user experience that intelligently connects these fragments of information and delivers it in a personalized, contextual and customizable fashion. Much more to come.

    I do, however, want to point out that the challenges you raise are not insurmountable. In the coming months, we are introducing a feature on our app called Omnio Pages that allows for the open source aggregation of key partners to play together on a platform that ‘connects the dots’ to make meaningful application of the information. While it won’t solve everything, we believe its a big step in the right direction and are actively partnering with forward thinking institutions (medical associations, health facilities, private vendors, pharma, etc.) to join the Omnio network.

    Shameless plug…anyone interested in creating an Omnio Page to deliver valuable content to HCPs, please feel free to reach out to me ( to learn more about how to get you on the platform in front of hundreds of thousands of medical professionals that we already have relationships with.

    Again..nice article Tim and I look forward to reading more from you on this topic.

    Chief Medical & Innovation Officer, SVP Product Management
    Physicians Interactive Holdings (Creator of Omnio)

    • Timothy Aungst, PharmD June 3, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

      Thank you Gautam, greatly enjoyed your comments and insight. Moving to a sort of open access is a good start, and glad to hear it happening. Who do you see being involved in the near future?


  2. Marc-Emile Plourde June 2, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    The problem of medical crApps is not new, but I think the issue should be treated similarly to what we’ve been doing with bogus health related websites; by educating our patients.

    A few points
    The article does not take into account other types of “medical apps”, such as calculators, remote patient monitoring, PACS systems… Only the “medical education” apps were included. Moreover, as much as we all like to practice evidence based medicine, it’s nowhere near as straightforward as it seems. Just have a look at PSA screening guidelines — each big association has its own, so which one do you follow, and why? Should the developers build apps for each country – state – province? Because they each have their own guidelines, from their own associations…

    Ultimately, medicine is not a recipe, as some would like to believe. I guess this is why doctors are still around.

  3. Lex van Velsen June 3, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Hi Timothy,

    Thank you for discussing the paper. It’s always good to see that your work actually has some impact.

    I agree with your statement that some recommendations will be hard to implement in practice. Actually, I think the technical obstacles are the easiest ones. Integrating open-source in reality is difficult. It means changing a mindset within the organization. Organizations should give up ownership and control. Something which they will find really difficult. Once managers and policymakers have changed their vision, technical realization will be relatively easy. The same goes for standardizing content. Once the protocols are in place it will make life easier for writers. But getting there will be a time-consuming and difficult process.

    I am sure we will get there in the end, but I am also very curious how difficult the road will be to get there. I’d be very interested in hearing comments from managers and policy makers on the topic.


    • Timothy Aungst, PharmD June 3, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

      Thank you very much for the kind remarks Lex. Your paper and several others have struck my fancy, as I think mobile apps are being taken seriously amongst the academic community, and questions are being raised along the lines of what impact med apps will have on medical practice. This is the ‘Wild West’ phase, with little guidance or oversight being supplied. And due to that, we are seeing what you have identified, as ‘App Overload.’ I think there are currently not enough key stakeholders, be they medical societies or organizations, that have invested time or energy into this environment. Your call for open access is one way to counteract it, but completely agreed, how long will it take to get others involved? This is what concerns me the most in the end, how do we get the key players involved in a timely manner.

  4. Tom Ricciardi June 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    I would add a third item – that mobile apps are more useful when they are securely integrated with the electronic medical record.

  5. A/Prof Terry hannan June 4, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    ” First, apps should become gateway portals to quality-information that is open sourced. For instance, the authors suggest that information from the CDC should be utilized across multiple applications as open sourced information. Secondly, medical content should be standardized across mobile apps so that information follows the same content presentation” – sounds like many of the issues associated with HIT/e-health implementations. This is also a clarion sign to “evaluate and measure” what we do. As with all quality studies. “To improve care you have to be able to measure it”. [Don Berwick]

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