Apps and eating disorders: A systematic clinical appraisal.
Fairburn CG., Rothwell ER.
OBJECTIVE: Smartphone applications (apps) are proliferating and health-related apps are particularly popular. The aim of this study was to identify, characterize, and evaluate the clinical utility of apps designed either for people with eating disorders or for eating disorder professionals. METHOD: A search of the major app stores identified 805 potentially relevant apps, of which 39 were primarily designed for people with eating disorders and five for professionals. RESULTS: The apps for people with eating disorders had four main functions. Most common was the provision of advice, the quality of which ranged from sound to potentially harmful. Five apps included self-assessment tools but only two used methods that would generally be viewed as reliable. Four apps had the self-monitoring of eating habits as a major feature. Entering information into these apps could be accomplished with varying degrees of ease, but viewing it was more difficult. One app allowed the transfer of information between patients and clinicians. DISCUSSION: The enthusiasm for apps outstrips the evidence supporting their use. Given their popularity, it is suggested that clinicians evaluate app use as part of routine assessment. The clinical utility of the existing apps is not clear. Some are capable of tracking key features over time, but none has the functions required for analytic self-monitoring as in cognitive behavioral treatments. The full potential of apps has yet to be realized. Specialized apps could be designed to augment various forms of treatment, and there is the possibility that they could deliver an entire personalized intervention.