Consumer Experience with Health Apps Mixed, Finds Survey

In what is being called the most in-depth analysis to date of health-related app use in the United States, a new online national survey of Americans’ health app use shows both positive and negative aspects of mHealth adoption.

The survey results, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research mHealth and uHealth, and analyzed by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, show that 65 percent of respondents indicated that apps improved their health, and a majority had strong faith in the accuracy and effectiveness of the apps.

In addition, 58 percent of the 1,604 adult smartphone users surveyed had downloaded one of the estimated 40,000 available health-related mobile apps, while 42 percent had downloaded five or more.

About 65 percent of respondents reported using health apps on a daily basis. According to the survey, the most popular apps were those used to track physical activity (53 percent), food consumption (48 percent), weight loss (47 percent), and exercise instruction (34 percent).

However, at the same time, 46 percent of those surveyed admitted to having downloaded an app they no longer used. Respondents also cited cost, disinterest over time, and privacy concerns as barriers to wider and more effective use of the apps.

Also See: mHealth Growth Creates Privacy, Security Challenges

The most common reasons for people not downloading apps were lack of interest, cost, high volume of information that needed to be entered on a daily basis, and concern about apps collecting their personal data. When it comes to cost, 41 percent said they would never pay anything for a health app, 20 percent would pay only up to $1.99, while 23 percent said they pay at most between $2 and $5.99.

“Our study suggests that while many Americans have embraced health apps along with their smartphones, there are challenges to keeping users engaged, and many Americans who might benefit are not using them at all,” says lead investigator and clinical psychologist Paul Krebs, an assistant professor at NYU Langone. “There is still much more to be learned about how we can broaden the appeal and make best use of the wide variety of health apps now available—not just for fitness and nutrition, but for other purposes, such as monitoring sleep and scheduling medical appointments.”

Further, Krebs argues that far more must be done to test and validate the health benefits of apps and that app developers also need to address consumer concerns about privacy, keeping purchase costs low, and reducing the burden of data entry.

The average age of respondents was 40, and a majority had annual incomes of less than $50,000. Overall, those most likely in the survey to use health apps were younger, more educated, of higher income, of Hispanic ethnicity, or obese (with a body mass index of 30 or more).

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.