Although many individuals use health apps on their mobile phones, a substantial proportion of the U.S. population does not. And many who try health apps eventually stop using them, according to results of a  national survey of health app use among U.S. mobile phone owners.

In the survey of more than 1,600 mobile phone users funded by the Verizon Foundation, a little more than half of respondents indicated that they had downloaded a health app—fitness and nutrition were the most popular types—with most using them at least daily. However, of those who used such apps, about half stopped using them due to time-consuming data entry and loss of interest.

“As someone who has conducted usability testing on health apps and used them myself, it’s not surprising that users are turned off by the high data-entry burden,” says Paul Krebs, assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University School of Medicine. “It’s a real pain to put the data in. It’s just not practical.”

According to Krebs, app developers need to not only address usability and data entry concerns among consumers, but also issues such as cost. He said that about 40 percent of survey respondents said that they wouldn’t pay anything for a health app, while most others indicated that $1-2 was their price limit—which doesn’t bode well for developers.

“This really challenges the idea that apps could be a viable business model right now,” comments Krebs, given that a large proportion those surveyed would not pay anything for a health app. “People just don’t want to pay for them.”

In addition, he believes that clinical trials are necessary to test the efficacy of health apps to increase adoption and overall interest not just from consumers but physicians as well.

Also See: Docs at Odds with Patients in Use of Digital Health Tech

“It’s kind of a crapshoot for most users. They’re not sure that the apps will be helpful, so they won’t pay anything for it,” observes Krebs. “The problem is a lack of hard, clinical evidence of health outcomes. There’s one diabetes app for which there was evidence found for it, but that’s one out of 40,000 available in the Apple iTunes store—certainly not the ones that are most popular and used by millions of people.”

Nonetheless, among those surveyed who had downloaded health apps, most felt that they had improved their health. Another surprising finding from the survey, according to Krebs, was that people who used these apps trusted their accuracy and the safety of their data. “I don’t trust apps,” he remarks. At the same time, a common reason cited by consumers in the survey for not having downloaded health apps was their concern about these apps collecting their data.

The survey results, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research mHealth and uHealth, are available here.

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