Association Between User Engagement of a Mobile Health App for Gout and Improvements in Self-Care Behaviors: Randomized Controlled Trial

BACKGROUND:

Mobile health (mHealth) apps represent a promising approach for improving health outcomes in patients with chronic illness, but surprisingly few mHealth interventions have investigated the association between user engagement and health outcomes. We aimed to examine the efficacy of a recommended, commercially available gout self-management app for improving self-care behaviors and to assess self-reported user engagement of the app in a sample of adults with gout.

OBJECTIVE:

Our objective was to examine differences in self-reported user engagement between a recommended gout app (treatment group) and a dietary app (active control group) over 2 weeks as well as to examine any differences in self-care behaviors and illness perceptions.

METHODS:

Seventy-two adults with gout were recruited from the community and three primary and secondary clinics. Participants were randomized to use either Gout Central (n=36), a self-management app, or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet Plan (n=36), an app based on a diet developed for hypertension, for 2 weeks. The user version of the Mobile Application Rating Scale (uMARS, scale: 1 to 5) was used after the 2 weeks to assess self-reported user engagement, which included an open-ended question. Participants also completed a self-report questionnaire on self-care behaviors (scale: 1-5 for medication adherence and diet and 0-7 for exercise) and illness perceptions (scale: 0-10) at baseline and after the 2-week trial. Independent samples t tests and analysis of covariance were used to examine differences between groups at baseline and postintervention.

RESULTS:

Participants rated the gout app as more engaging (mean difference -0.58, 95% CI -0.96 to -0.21) and more informative (mean difference -0.34, 95% CI -0.67 to -0.01) than the dietary app at the 2-week follow-up. The gout app group also reported a higher awareness of the importance of gout (mean difference -0.64, 95% CI -1.27 to -0.003) and higher knowledge/understanding of gout (mean difference -0.70, 95% CI -1.30 to -0.09) than the diet app group at follow-up. There were no significant differences in self-care behaviors between the two groups postintervention. The gout app group also demonstrated stronger negative beliefs regarding the impact of gout (mean difference -2.43, 95% CI -3.68 to -1.18), stronger beliefs regarding the severity of symptoms (mean difference -1.97, 95% CI -3.12 to -0.82), and a stronger emotional response to gout (mean difference -2.38, 95% CI -3.85 to -0.90) at follow-up. Participant feedback highlighted the importance of tracking health-related information, customizing to the target group/individual, providing more interactive features, and simplifying information.

CONCLUSIONS:

Participants found the commercially available gout app more engaging. However, these findings did not translate into differences in self-care behaviors. The gout app group also demonstrated stronger negative illness perceptions at the follow-up. Overall, these findings suggest that the development of gout apps would benefit from a user-centered approach with a focus on daily, long-term self-care behaviors as well as modifying illness beliefs.

TRIAL REGISTRATION:

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12617001052325; https://anzctr.org.au/Trial/Registration/TrialReview.aspx?id=373217.

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Aug 13;7(8):e15021. doi: 10.2196/15021.