Mobile Apps for Eye Care in Canada: An Analysis of the iTunes Store

Background: Mobile phone screens can facilitate stimulation to various components of the visual system and many mobile apps are accepted as a means of providing clinical assessments for the oculo-visual system. Although many of these apps are intended for use in clinical settings, there is a growing number of apps in eye care developed for self-tests and eye exercises for lay people. These and other features, however, have not yet been well described.

Objective: Our objective was to identify, describe, and categorize mobile apps related to eye care that are available to users in the Canadian iTunes market.

Methods: We conducted an extensive search of the Apple iTunes Store for apps related to eye care. We used the terms “eye,” “eye care,” “vision,” and “eye test” and included apps that are targeted at both lay people and medical professionals. We excluded apps whose primary function is not related to eye care. Eligible apps were categorized by primary purpose, based on how they were described by their developers in the iTunes Store.

Results: Our search yielded 10,657 apps, of which 427 met our inclusion criteria. After removing duplicates, 355 unique apps were subject to further review. We assigned the eligible apps to three distinct categories: 39/355 apps (11.0%) were intended for use by medical professionals, 236 apps (66.5%, 236/355) were intended for use by lay people, and 80 apps (22.5%, 80/355) were intended for marketing eye care and eye-care products. We identified 9 subcategories of apps based on the descriptions of their primary functions. Apps for medical professionals fell into three subcategories: clinical calculators (n=6), clinical diagnostic tools (n=18), and education and networking apps for professionals (n=15). Apps for lay people fell into four subcategories: self-testing (n=153), eye exercises (n=30), patient tools and low vision aids (n=35), and apps for patient education (n=18). Mixed-use apps (n=80) were placed into two subcategories: marketing of individual practitioners or eye-care products (n=72) and marketing of multiple eye-care products or professional services.

Conclusions: The most extensive subcategory pertaining to eye care consisted of apps for use by lay people, especially for conducting self-tests (n=236). This study revealed a previously uncharacterized category of apps intended for use by doctors and patients, of which the primary goal is marketing of eye-care services and products (n=80).

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