A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association accents the limits of web-based health management tools that are currently available.

Researchers focused specifically on tools for managing diabetes, but the drawbacks could extend to other tools designed to help patients do everything from lose weight to quit smoking. The study concluded that "despite their abundance, few practical web-accessible tools exist." In many case, the tools suffered from poor design that made them difficult to use.

"Existing diabetes websites have wide variations in the quality of evidence provided and offer didactic information at high reading levels with little interactive technology, social support or problem-solving assistance," wrote lead author Catherine Yu, MD ofthe University of Toronto and St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. "Similarly, although healthcare providers increasingly use online resources for patient care, the volume, breadth, editorial quality and evidence-based methodology upon which they were developed are highly variable."

Of the 92 web tools analyzed in the study, 60% had three or more usability errors, included limited use of visual interaction and navigation that was not intuitive. Just 6% had no usability errors

One of the biggest problems facing web-based health tools is patients often use them inconsistently. A weight-loss patient tracking calories with a mobile phone app, for example, may not record everything eaten in a given day.

The study recommended companies offering such tools work on improving attrition, standardizing quality indicators and making indicators transparent for patients and doctors choosing the best web-based tool.

"Web-based tools have the potential to improve health outcomes and complement healthcare delivery, but their full potential is hindered by limited knowledge about their effectiveness, high prevalence of usability errors and high attrition rates," Yu wrote.