Mobile health: a largely untapped market for healthcare

Consumers want access to health records and physicians - apps lack capability
By Jessica Davis
11:01 AM
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Consumers want health apps to do more for their lives, to "more accurately communicate and monitor their health." But product sophistication and an accurate understanding of consumer profiles limit capability.

A recent study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research and designed by New York University revealed the consumer perspective of health app use in the U.S.

[See also: Mobile health app market in growth mode]

More than 1,600 mobile phone users were surveyed, assessing sociodemographic characteristics, health app history and reasons for use and the status of their overall health.

More than half of mobile users have downloaded mobile health apps, with the majority seeking fitness and nutrition goals. However, while mobile health app usage is extensive throughout the population and increasing in popularity, there are a vast number of people not engaged. Even more stop using them.

"The potential in this use of apps is great, and healthcare systems must embrace this technology and work through privacy and regulatory barriers to supply the services that patients are already requesting," the report states.

[See also: mHealth and engagement: A delicate duet]

One of the biggest survery trends was improved communication with healthcare providers; 57 percent of respondents were interested in apps capable of making an appointment or directly connecting to physicians. More than 60 percent wanted an app to access their medical records.

"I would want to be able to easily schedule appointments with my doctor, write to my doctor with concerns, have my doctor be able to respond to my concerns, view my medical records and be able to track my medications," said one survey respondent.

Other survey participants stated they wanted "full access to my health records and the doctors I have to see, to diagnose some health concerns or issues by symptoms," or a way to "jot down symptoms that are ailing me at the time, so I could send them to my doctor."

Another participant cited that access to an EHR would make it possible to view "graphs showing my health as time passes."

But healthcare professionals aren't involved with the design of the majority of health apps. In fact, 1/5 of health apps merely provide information with limited functionality.

The respondents stated that if apps were developed by trusted healthcare vendors, they'd feel more confident in sharing personal data. Developers need to focus more on usability testing to rise to consumers expectations.

The data also revealed app developers need to enforce clinical trials to test effectiveness, which will expand the appeal and reach. Additionally, there need to be cost reductions – a major consumer concern.

Recommendations from providers may increase mobile health app usage, as can the "prescription" of specific apps. However, clinical trial evidence backed with academic medical evidence will be the true driving force behind app use and increased patient engagement.

[See also: Mobile apps changing healthcare.]