Study: mHealth app use not prevalent, so developers must boost quality and lower costs

The number of Americans using mHealth apps is far less than many may realize and will remain small unless developers lower costs, boost quality and verify apps in clinical settings, according to a research paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

For the study, 1,604 smartphone users were surveyed on health app use, app experience, effectiveness and health status, as well as sociodemographic characteristics. More than half of all respondents, 58 percent, had downloaded an mHealth app, mostly targeting fitness and nutrition. Of that group, 46 percent did not continue using the app, citing a loss of interest, hidden costs and data entry requirements. Forty-one percent of respondents stated that they are not willing to pay for health apps.

"These findings suggest that while many individuals use health apps, a substantial proportion of the population does not, and that even among those who use health apps, many stop using them," Paul Krebs, Ph.D., of the New York University School of Medicine, says.

Yet users who downloaded an app stated they had trust in its accuracy and described data safety as "quite high," the report notes.

"The field of mobile health apps is still in a nascent stage and is characterized by a number of limitations, both in terms of sophistication of the apps themselves as well as in knowledge of consumer profiles," Krebs and Dustin Duncan, Sc.D., also of NYU, say. Most health apps have not been designed with input from healthcare and behavior change professionals."

The research reveals app users used the software at least once a day; 20 percent of respondents say the app was recommended by a physician.

The findings are the latest insight regarding mHealth app use and adoption. As FierceMobileHealthcare reported last month, Baby Boomers, viewed as a prime app user segment, aren't grabbing the tools given a slew of challenges.

A recent IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics report states that there currently are 165,000 mobile health apps, but that nearly half of all downloads are generated by just 36 apps.

The JMIR report states two top reasons for discontinued app use are the time demands for data entry and confusing user interfaces. "Our findings also suggest a largely untapped market exists for apps that improve interactions with the healthcare system," the authors say.

For more information:
- read the JMIR paper