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A Systematic, Multi-domain Review of Mobile Smartphone Apps for Evidence-Based Stress Management

      Contex

      Chronic stress presents a growing, pervasive burden in healthcare, and mobile smartphone applications (apps) have the potential to deliver evidence-based stress management strategies. This review identified and evaluated stress management apps across domains of (1) evidence-based content; (2) transparency in app development; and (3) functionality of the app interface.

      Evidence acquisition

      The iOS App Store was systematically searched. Apps with descriptions indicating that they targeted the intended audience and included evidence-related terminology, at least one evidence-based stress management strategy, and behavior change components were downloaded and evaluated by two independent raters across the three domains of evidence-based content, transparency, and functionality.

      Evidence synthesis

      A total of 902 apps were identified based on 21 searches. Of these, 60 met study criteria and were downloaded and evaluated between April and June 2015. Twenty (33%) ultimately did not deliver an evidence-based strategy. Of the delivered strategies, the most common were mindfulness and meditation (73%) and diaphragmatic breathing (25%). On average, apps addressed half of the transparency criteria, and nearly all (85%) were acceptable across usability criteria. A total of 32 apps included both evidence-based content and exhibited no problems with usability or functionality; apps affiliated with a non-profit, research-engaged institution comprised 31% of these.

      Conclusions

      This review evaluated 60 iOS apps for stress management across domains of evidence-based content, transparency, and functionality; these apps have the potential to effectively supplement medical care. Findings further indicate that a comprehensive, multi-domain approach can distinguish apps that use evidence-based strategies from those that do not.
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