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Assessing the quality and usability of smartphone apps for pain self-management

Charmian Reynoldson, Catherine Stones, Matthew Allsop, Peter Gardner, Michael I Bennett, S José Closs, Rick Jones, Peter Knapp
Pain Medicine: the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pain Medicine 2014, 15 (6): 898-909
24422990

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate smartphone apps intended for self-management of pain using quality assessment criteria and usability testing with prospective users.

DESIGN: 1) Survey and content analysis of available apps; and 2) individual usability study of two apps.

SETTING: University of Leeds, United Kingdom.

PARTICIPANTS: Forty-one participants (aged 19-59 years) with experience of chronic or recurrent pain episodes.

METHODS: We undertook a survey, content analysis, and quality appraisal of all currently available mobile phone apps for self-management of pain. Two apps were then selected and assessed with usability testing.

RESULTS: Twelve apps met the inclusion criteria. The quality assessment revealed wide variation in their clinical content, interface design, and usability to support self-management of pain. Very little user or clinician involvement was identified in the development of the apps. From the usability testing, participants stated a preference for an interface design employing a lighter color scheme and particular text font. Although very few participants were aware of pain-reporting apps prior to participation, many would consider use in the future.

CONCLUSIONS: Variation in app quality and a lack of user and clinician engagement in development were found across the pain apps in this research. Usability testing identified a range of user preferences. Although useful information was obtained, it would be beneficial to involve users earlier in the process of development, as well as establishing ways to merge end user requirements with evidence-based content, to provide high-quality and usable apps for self-management of pain.

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