How do I know if an app is good to use with my patients?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question. Here at T2, my job is to keep track of all the published research on apps that’s out there, and this means that I’m constantly on the lookout for randomized controlled trials, reviews, qualitative studies and other reported research related to apps.

Every so often, I’ll present the current state of this research or give the highlights of the best studies I’ve found, and it never fails that someone will ask me how to know whether or not an app is good. By good, most people want to know if an app has been used with successful treatments, or contains evidence-based content. In other words, is it based on the best available, critically evaluated evidence or has it been found to be successful when used in treatment.

The problem with this question is that most apps don’t contain citations (references to the study that shows the validity of an app’s content), so it’s a very difficult question to answer. While most printed materials or websites list information on what studies their content is based, with apps, because space is critical and users don’t like reading a lot of tiny text, references are often overlooked.

That being said, there are quite a few apps available that are of extremely high quality and are immensely useful for that time between appointments. Here are a few tips on how to find a good one:

  • Search for apps developed by well-known organizations or universities.
  • Sometimes an app has an accompanying website that provides references. To find these sites, read the app marketplace description or do a Google search.
  • Glance at the app marketplace reviews. No matter how great the content of an app is, if it’s not a stable app (i.e., it crashes often), it’s not a good app.
  • Most apps listed on the app marketplaces include a section on how to contact the content developers. Send them an email asking for their content base.
  • Don’t always assume that a paid app is a better app; the bulk of evidence-based health apps are actually free. Beware of costly apps with vague marketplace descriptions.
  • Google Scholar and PubMed are always good standbys to use for app searches, if you have the time to wade through the material.

I understand that this answer isn’t fast or simple, and it’s not what most people want to hear. Just like any other tool that a healthcare provider uses in their practice, however, a recommendation for a “good app” shouldn’t be taken lightly.

All of T2’s apps are developed by subject matter experts using evidence-based content. Check out our app descriptions to see if any look useful.

Jae Osenbach, Ph.D. is a research psychologist and subject matter expert with the Mobile Health Program at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Read other posts by Dr. Jae Osenbach