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.

References:
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.