Availability, content and quality of commercially available smartphone applications for the self-management of low back pain: a systematic assessment

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Abstract

Purpose: Explore smartphone apps that may be recommended by clinicians for the self-management of low back pain. Methods: Prospectively registered systematic assessment of self-contained apps for self-management of low back pain on the Google Play and Apple App stores (Oceania), including ≥1 NICE low back pain and sciatica clinical guideline-recommended component and functioning without health professional input. Outcomes were quality (Mobile App Rating Scale; MARS), and self-management (Self-Management Support Checklist; SMS-14) and behaviour change potential (App Behaviour Change Scale; ABACUS). Results: 25 apps were included. The average quality of included apps was acceptable (Mean MARS score of 3.9 out of a maximum possible 5). The self-management support and behaviour change potential of included apps appeared low (mean SMS-14 score was 3.4/14; mean ABACUS score was 5.4/21). The apps showed no significant correlation between app consumer ratings and MARS scores. App quality was significantly correlated with app price (p = 0.049) but not consumer ratings, however, these findings were based on a small number of studies and the overall model was not significant. Conclusions: Smartphone apps for the self-management of low back pain are of average to good quality, with questionable potential for self-management and behaviour change. Clinicians should consider that few apps were designed to specifically incorporate self-management support and behaviour change potential when recommending apps to clients. Further development in these areas of app design would be of benefit.Implications for Rehabilitation Smartphone apps have the potential to improve LBP self-management outcomes, however, apps are not well regulated and the quality of information and advice provided is often low quality. The findings from this systematic assessment indicate that LBP self-management apps have limited self-management support and behaviour change potential features. Recommendation of current smartphone apps for LBP should take into consideration that although apps are of acceptable quality they are not specifically designed with self-management support and behaviour change principles. App quality does not appear to be associated with consumer ratings, however, there may be a positive association between app price and quality which requires further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Early online date6 Oct 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Oct 2021

Keywords

  • behaviour change
  • low back pain
  • self-management
  • Smartphone apps
  • systematic assessment

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