Smartphone Apps for Headaches, Pain and Lack of Sleep Key Features, Study Finds

A review of over 200 neurology-focused apps found opportunities to improve language offerings and hybrid use with clinicians.

Neurology apps lack privacy, accessibility and crisis management resources, study finds Posted in JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

The study found opportunities for content improvement among headache apps, sleepand pain, including improvements to application structure and feature delivery.

The study, which is considered the largest review of publicly available neurology-focused app offerings to date, examined more than 200 headache, pain and insomnia apps across 105 dimensions.

These dimensions were based on the Mobile Health Index and Navigation Database (MIND) criteria, including diversity, equity and inclusion criteria related to accessibility features and language options .

The characteristics of the best detectable neurological apps on iOS and Android devices were evaluated and compared to those of a control group.

Pain and headache apps share many common features. Symptom tracking was the most common feature in headache (32/48; 67%) and pain (21/47; 45%) related apps, while mindfulness was the most common feature in sleep-related applications (73/106; 69%).

While the most commonly offered features were tracking and mindfulness-related features, individual apps offered varying amounts or types of these features.

Investigators also noted that although 90% of apps were free to download, less than 50% of apps were truly free.

Across all apps, privacy, accessibility, and crisis management resources were limited, highlighting concerns about app structure.

Of the apps surveyed, 9% don’t have a privacy policy, showing an improvement in privacy policy offerings compared to previous searches.

However, the authors note that as of September 2021, the Federal Trade Commission expects wellness apps not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to follow rules related to the law. HIPAA regarding violations, suggesting apps will need to modify required settings. security process.

Only 8% of sleep-related apps, 2% of pain-related apps, and 0% of headache-related apps offer crisis resources that connect a user to a hotline or put them in touch with a medical professional , which shows a significant lack of crisis management features across all categories.

The authors also pointed to an opportunity for increased diversity and inclusion efforts, as only 17% of neurology-focused apps supported Spanish language use.

Additionally, the majority of apps were geared towards self-help, with few designed to be used in partnership with a peer or clinicians.

“In the broader field of digital health, there is growing evidence that apps used in partnership with others can be more engaging and effective than self-help ones,” the authors wrote. “Lessons already learned about low engagement with mental health apps may help these neurology-related apps grow as more engaging relationship tools that could offer more support for hybrid use.”

The authors also suggested that common features between neurology apps and mental health apps, including behavior-based treatments and remote symptom capture, indicate potential synergy between the fields.

“Patient care can be improved by integrating a transdiagnostic approach with a health-based smartphone app,” the authors concluded.

Limitations of the study included false advertising of several apps, the potential for inaccurately coded information, and paywalls limiting the evaluation of all features.

The authors noted that it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of smartphone apps; While these results indicate what the apps claim to offer, personal use is necessary to determine which apps meet the needs of each clinical use case.


Minen MT, George A, Camacho E, et al. Evaluation of smartphone apps for common neurological conditions (headaches, insomnia, and pain): a cross-sectional study. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2022; 10(6):e36761. doi:10.2196/36761

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