The Journal of Health Communication recently published a paper raising serious concerns about the attention and hope piled onto such technology, largely because so much of it was “unsupervised” and relied on patients’ faithfully recording their activities. This year researchers at Johns Hopkins published one of the first papers to put health apps through a sort of rigorous equivalent to medical trials. The findings showed the apps were mediocre at best. Most of the apps’ ability to manage disease was of “low quality, and nearly all were undertaken in high-income countries,” they wrote.
According to CNN Money Consumers appear to be gobbling up such apps: Last year mobile health apps for iPhones (AAPL, Fortune 500) and devices that use Google’s (GOOG, Fortune 500) Android operating system generated some $718 million in revenue, up from an estimated $100 million in 2010, according to the National Venture Capital Association. MyFitnessPal, which just raised $18 million in funding, says it has 40 million users logging their workouts. Runkeeper, which bills itself as a “personal trainer in your pocket,” claims at least 22 million users.
Insights & Takeaways
(1) The mobile health app industry is still in its infancy. The potential for using technology and data collection in preventive medicine remains great, particularly as other parts of the health care infrastructure — insurers, hospitals, nursing homes — work with app developers to ensure use and drive results.
(2) Research is needed to identify key motivational drivers to actively engage health apps.
(3) Usability studies should be conducted to ensure patients use the apps as a tool. The apps have to be easy to use.
(4) Apps, alone, are not going to change poor patient lifestyles. It has to be an integrated approach with on and offline methods.
(5) App developers need to think like patients and they should be briefed with target audience dynamics so they better understand how consumers want and use apps.