Background: The prevalence of diabetes is increasing and with the requirements for self-management and risk of late complications, it remains a challenge for the individual and society. Patients can benefit from support from health care personnel in their self-management, and the traditional communication between patients and health care personnel is changing. Smartphones and apps offer a unique platform for communication, but apps with integrated health care personnel communication based on patient data are yet to be investigated to provide evidence of possible effects.
Objective: Our goal was to systematically review studies that aimed to evaluate integrated communication within mobile apps for tailored feedback between patients with diabetes and health care personnel in terms of (1) study characteristics, (2) functions, (3) study outcomes, (4) effects, and (5) methodological quality.
Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted following our International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (PROSPERO) protocol, searching for apps with integrated communication for persons with diabetes tested in a controlled trial in the period 2008 to 2016. We searched the databases PubMed, Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online (MEDLINE), Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Cochrane Central, Excerpta Medica database (EMBASE), ClinicalTrials.gov, and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform. The search was closed in September 2016. Reference lists of primary articles and review papers were assessed. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were followed, and we applied the Cochrane risk of bias tool to assess methodological quality.
Results: We identified 2822 citations and after duplicate removal, we assessed 1128 citations. A total of 6 papers were included in this systematic review, reporting on data from 431 persons participating in small trials of short duration. The integrated communication features were mostly individualized as written non–real-time feedback. The number of functions varied from 2 to 9, and blood glucose tracking was the most common. HbA1c was the most common primary outcome, but the remaining reported outcomes were not standardized and comparable. Because of both the heterogeneity of the included trials and the poor methodological quality of the studies, a meta-analysis was not possible. A statistically significant improvement in the primary measure of outcome was found in 3 of the 6 included studies, of which 2 were HbA1c and 1 was mean daytime ambulatory blood pressure. Participants in the included trials reported positive usability or feasibility postintervention in 5 out of 6 trials. The overall methodological quality of the trials was, however, scored as an uncertain risk of bias.
Conclusions: This systematic review highlights the need for more trials of higher methodological quality. Few studies offer an integrated function for communication and feedback from health care personnel, and the research field represents an area of heterogeneity with few studies of highly rigorous methodological quality. This, in combination with a low number of participants and a short follow-up, is making it difficult to provide reliable evidence of effects for stakeholders.
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