Mobile Phone Apps in Australia for Improving Pregnancy Outcomes: Systematic Search on App Stores.

JMIR Publications Inc.
Publication Type:
Journal Article
JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 2020, 8, (11)
Issue Date:
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BACKGROUND:Women are increasingly turning to mobile health platforms to receive health information and support in pregnancy, yet the content of these platforms vary. Although there is great potential to influence health behaviors, little research has assessed the quality of these platforms or their ability to change behavior. In recent years, validated tools to assess app quality have become available. OBJECTIVE:To identify and assess the quality and ongoing popularity of the top 10 freely available pregnancy apps in Australia using validated tools. METHODS:A systematic search on app stores to identify apps was performed. A Google Play search used subject terms pregnancy, parenting, and childbirth; the iTunes search used alternative categories medical and health and fitness. The top 250 apps from each store were cross-referenced, and the top 100 found in both Google Play and iTunes were screened for eligibility. Apps that provided health information or advice for pregnancy were included. Excluded apps focused on nonhealth information (eg, baby names). The top 10 pregnancy apps were assessed using the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS). A comparative analysis was conducted at 2 time points over 2 years to assess the ongoing popularity of the apps. The MARS score was compared to the download and star rating data collected from iTunes and Google Play in 2017 and 2019. Health behaviors including breastfeeding, healthy pregnancy weight, and maternal awareness of fetal movements were reviewed for apparent impact on the user's knowledge, attitudes, and behavior change intentions using the MARS perceived impact section and the Coventry, Aberdeen, and London-Refined (CALO-RE) taxonomy. RESULTS:A total of 2052 free apps were screened for eligibility, 1397 were excluded, and 655 were reviewed and scored. The top 10 apps were selected using download numbers and star ratings. All 10 apps were suboptimal in quality, practicality, and functionality. It was not possible to identify a primary purpose for all apps, and there was overlap in purpose for many. The mean overall MARS app quality score across all 10 apps was 3.01 (range 1.97-4.40) in 2017 and 3.40 (range 2.27-4.44) in 2019. A minority of apps scored well for perceived impact on health behavior using the MARS tool. Using the CALO-RE 40 item taxonomy, the number of behavior change techniques used was low. The mean number of behavior change techniques for breastfeeding was 5 (range 2-11), for pregnancy weight was 4 (range 2-12), and for maternal awareness of fetal movements was 5 (range 2-8). CONCLUSIONS:This review provides valuable information to clinicians and consumers about the quality of apps currently available for pregnancy in Australia. Consideration is needed regarding the regulation of information and the potential opportunity to incorporate behavior change techniques to improve maternal and fetal outcomes.
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