10,000 mobile apps to improve health … and counting

By Nick Martin, Vice President of Innovation, Research and Development at UnitedHealth Group

Mobile apps, which may have started as productivity tools--such as for email, calendar and database management--now include games, GPS services, order tracking, weight management and more. Why? Apps make it easier to start, track and accomplish tasks by reaching people on devices they already enjoy using and integrating those tasks seamlessly into their daily routines. So, it's no wonder that health and medical apps, one of the fastest-growing segments in app development, have enormous potential benefits for consumers and the overall health system.

According to Float Mobile Learning Research, Apple's iTunes App Store currently offers more than 10,000 medical and healthcare apps. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. consumers are interested in mobile health solutions, and 40 percent of physicians believe that mobile health technologies can reduce office visits.

Health apps help engage consumers in their health and well-being. They take a targeted and personalized approach to addressing health issues and helping consumers monitor and stay focused on their progress. Apps also can help provide a complete, accurate snapshot of the users' health and wellness, giving users the power to make more informed decisions about their health and giving health professionals the ability to provide better care.

UnitedHealth Group supports the use of technology to improve care quality and efficiency. Today, the company is using apps to forge exciting new paths to engage consumers in healthy behaviors in ways that are as convenient as they are fun and as educational as they are effective.

Some of the most popular health apps today focus on empowering consumers to take a more active role in their personal health and health outcomes. They can count calories, monitor migraine symptoms, track exercise activity or send a medication reminder. The common thread: These apps put consumers in charge of when and how they manage their health.

For example, OptumizeMe, an app developed by OptumHealth, a UnitedHealth Group company, is one of the first health challenge apps on the market. It enables people to use their smartphones to challenge others to health and fitness goals, track their fitness progress and post results on their Facebook page. Users can compete with coworkers to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day or challenge a friend who lives across the country to run 10 miles a week.

OptumizeMe makes it fun for users to achieve fitness, nutrition and lifestyle goals. It also provides positive reinforcement by rewarding users with competitive challenge "badges" and capitalizes on the proven benefits of peer support by encouraging users to network with friends, family members and coworkers. Perhaps that's why more than 25,000 consumers have downloaded OptumizeMe in the past year and more than half are active users. In fact, a July 2007 report in the New England Journal of Medicine supports the idea that healthy behavior (as well as not-so-healthy behavior) spreads through social connections--a key component of OptumizeMe.

Other mobile apps such as Health4Me, which was developed by UnitedHealth Group's health benefits company UnitedHealthcare, also can help simplify how consumers access their health information. Among the app's many features is an "Easy Connect" option. Users select the type of question they have about their claims and benefits, and then request a callback on their mobile device from a UnitedHealthcare customer service representative. The app also provides users with 24/7 access to a registered nurse; enables them to locate a nearby in-network physician, hospital or other medical facility; and provides access to their personal health benefits information. Health4Me, which launched in late February, received nearly 18,000 downloads in less than six weeks.

Mobile technology holds endless possibilities to improve people's health and make the healthcare system more efficient and cost-effective.

So, the next time you wonder how you might improve your health, remember: there's an app for that!

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