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The format of this material is standardised for commercial app stores, consisting of a written app description and, optionally, screenshots or videos of app functions.Within this restricted context, the extent to which scientific evidence is presented as a potential marker of quality for health apps is unclear.Seventy-three apps were coded, and the majority (64%) claimed effectiveness at diagnosing a mental health condition, or improving symptoms, mood or self-management.
Forty-seven apps (§4, 47/73, 64%) also provided some form of statement supporting use of the app (although this is the same number as provided claims of effectiveness, this represents a different, but overlapping, set of apps).
The most common form of support was the use of scientific language (§4.a, 32/73, 44%), although eight of these apps used general terms (e.g.
A preliminary investigation by the authors previously reported that, for apps clinically relevant for depression, 38% of app store descriptions included wording related to claims of effectiveness, whereas only 2.6% provided evidence to substantiate such claims.
This study aims to extend this preliminary analysis to further understand how scientific evidence is currently used to market and sell mental health apps by (i) examining the types of claims made by mental health apps and, specifically, estimating the proportion of apps that invoke claims of effectiveness; (ii) describing the types of supporting statements used to justify claims and, specifically, estimating the proportion of apps which invoke scientific principles; and (iii) assessing the credibility of scientific principles that are used as supporting statements.
This study examined the claims invoked through these app store descriptions, the extent to which scientific language is used to support such claims, and the corresponding evidence in the literature.
Google Play and i Tunes were searched for apps related to depression, self-harm, substance use, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
A minority of apps (14%) described design or development involving lived experience, and none referenced certification or accreditation processes such as app libraries.
Scientific language was the most frequently invoked form of support for use of mental health apps; however, high-quality evidence is not commonly described.
The majority of apps (59/73, 81%) described a single mental health-related functionality; fewer apps described two (8/73, 11%) or three (3/73, 4.1%) discrete functions.
Three apps did not clearly describe any specific functionality (3/73, 4.1%).