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Effectiveness of smartphone apps for lifestyle improvement

Are smartphones and e-health applications the future of interventions for NCD's?

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) account for 70% of all deaths in a year globally. The 4 main NCDs (cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic pulmonary diseases, and diabetes mellitus) all share the same behavioral risk factors: physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, tobacco use, and harmful use of alcohol.

Fifty percent of persons with NCDs do not adhere to the prescribed treatment; in fact, adherence to lifestyle interventions in particular is considered a major challenge. Feedback seems to be essential for success in behavioral change. Smartphone apps permit structured monitoring of health parameters, as well as the opportunity to receive feedback.

Statistical significant improvements between groups on lifestyle factors were reported in 6 of 9 studies (67%). For diabetes, the use of apps seems to improve lifestyle factors and especially decrease HbA1c.

More research with long-term follow-up (over a year, as NCD patients need to handle their diseases for the rest of their lives) should be performed to assess the effect of smartphone apps for NCDs other than diabetes.

> From: Lunde et al., J Med Internet Res 20 (2018) e162 . All rights reserved to The Author(s). Click here for the online summary.

Expert opinion

The use of e-Health applications (web-based, telemonitoring or app-based) is promising and developing quickly. 1588 studies were identified on the topic, and only 9 met the criteria  for inclusion, indicating that building and implementing a useful tool is complex and needs a clear underlying theory of behaviour change.

Possibly, blended care (face-to-face combined with self-management tools to provide feedback) with a long term follow-up is the way forward for behavioral change.

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