More than a third of smartphone apps that provide advice on eczema self-management contain misleading information about eczema treatment and disease progression, a study has found.
An assessment of 98 free or paid apps sourced from online smartphone sources such as the Google Play store and Apple App store found considerable variance in the quality of the apps and conformity with international clinical guidelines.
Most apps (79%) provided instruction on application of topical creams such as calcineurin inhibitors and corticosteroids but fewer (48%) provided information on side effects of medications.
Few (15%) provided a valid source for their medicines information such as doctors, peer-reviewed papers or guidelines.
Most apps (78%) also provided non-pharmacological management advice such as moisturiser application and bath habits.
The majority of apps (73%) also provided information on environmental allergens; while a few (18%) provided information on food allergy.
Home remedies including vitamin supplements and probiotics were included in 12% of apps without any disclaimer that they were not evidence-based.
The study estimated 34% of educational information was not consistent with international guidelines, especially regarding the use of topical steroids.
“This is concerning, particularly with regards to steroid use where balanced information about appropriate use, dosing, and side effects should be sufficiently explained, as concerns about steroid side-effects are a common reason for their underuse and a major barrier to appropriate eczema management,” the study authors said.
Most apps (82%) provided a disease-tracking function including variable options to record symptoms, medication use, environmental conditions and reminders for treatment.
“We found that patients should use the available eczema self-management apps with caution. Meanwhile, healthcare professionals should be aware of the issues, direct patients to selected apps with comprehensive tracking functions and validated information and could alternatively consider advocating the use of other reliable information resources such as accredited webpages or disease-specific educational leaflets.”
The researchers concluded apps “have not yet reached their potential” to improve self-management of eczema.