UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Evaluating the quality, safety, and functionality of commonly used smartphone apps for bipolar disorder mood and sleep self-management Kulur, Rhea; Michalak, Erin E.; Morton, Emma; Nicholas, Jennifer; Yang, Linda; Lapadat, Laura; Barnes, Steven J.; Provencher, Martin D.; Depp, Colin; Chan, Michelle


Background: Individuals with bipolar disorder (BD) are increasingly turning to smartphone applications (apps) for health information and self-management support. While reviews have raised concerns regarding the effectiveness and safety of publicly available apps for BD, apps surveyed may not reflect what individuals with BD are using. The present study had two aims: first, to characterize the use of health apps to support mood and sleep amongst people with BD, and second, to evaluate the quality, safety and functionality of the most commonly used self-management apps. Methods A web-based survey was conducted to explore which apps people with BD reported using to support self-management of mood and sleep. The characteristics of the most commonly nominated apps were described using a standardized framework, including their privacy policy, clinical foundations, and functionality. Results Respondents (n = 919) were 77.9% female with a mean age of 36.9 years. 41.6% of participants (n = 382) reported using a self-management app to support mood or sleep. 110 unique apps were nominated in relation to mood, and 104 unique apps nominated in relation to sleep; however, most apps were only mentioned once. The nine most frequently nominated apps related to mood and sleep were subject to further evaluation. All reviewed apps offered a privacy policy, however user control over data was limited and the complexity of privacy policies was high. Only one app was developed for BD populations. Half of reviewed apps had published peer-reviewed evidence to support their claims of efficacy, but little research was specific to BD. Conclusion Findings illustrate the potential of smartphone apps to increase the reach of psychosocial interventions amongst people with BD. Apps were largely created by commercial developers and designed for the general population, highlighting a gap in the development and dissemination of evidence-informed apps for BD. There may be risks in using generic health apps for BD self-management; clinicians should enquire about patients’ app use to foster conversations about their particular benefits and limitations.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)