Currently submitted to: JMIR mHealth and uHealth
Date Submitted: Oct 5, 2017
Open Peer Review Period: Oct 5, 2017 - Nov 30, 2017 (Under Review)
The rise and rise of pregnancy apps: advances, issues, gaps
Pregnancy apps are a booming global industry, with most pregnant women in developed countries now using them. From the perspective of health care and health information provision, this is both encouraging and unsettling; the demand indicates a clear direction for the development of future resources, but it also underscores the importance of processes ensuring access, reliability and quality control.
This review provides an overview of current literature on pregnancy apps with the aim of describing: the ways in which apps and mhealth initiatives are used by women in general and those of a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background; the utility and quality of information provided; and areas where more research, development and oversight are needed.
A narrative review methodology was chosen for the study. Inclusion criteria were papers focussed on pregnancy app and mhealth usage and/or evaluation, and uptake among culturally and linguistically diverse populations. The date range of relevant identified publications was 2009 to 2017. Electronic searches were conducted using Pubmed and Google Scholar, with the addition of manual searches of reference lists.
We found that pregnancy apps are principally used to access pregnancy health and fetal development information. Data storage capability, interactive features/personalised tools, and social media features are also popular app features sought by women. There is evidence of lower rates of pregnancy app uptake among lower-income women and among those who do not speak English as a first language. Preliminary evidence indicates that a combination of technological, health literacy and/or language issues, may result in less accessibility by these groups, however further investigation is required. The small body of literature examining the effectiveness of mhealth initiatives for improving the understanding of pregnancy concepts and health outcomes is positive. A significant limitation of the health app industry in general is the lack of regulation in a commercially dominated field, making it difficult for users to assess the reliability of information being presented. Health professionals and users alike indicate a preference for pregnancy apps that are relevant to their local health care context and come from a trusted source.There is evidence of a need for greater health professional and institutional engagement in app development, as well as awareness of and guidance for women’s use of these resources.
This is the first review of pregnancy app use, types of information provided and features preferred by pregnancy women in general and those of a CALD background. It indicates the demand for accessibility to accurate information that is relevant to the users’ community and their associated health services. Given the popularity of pregnancy apps, there is a huge potential for such apps to be used for the provision of accurate, evidence-based health information and it is hoped this review will inform their future development.