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iMedicalApps and JMIR Publications have partnered to help disseminate interesting and innovative digital health research being done worldwide. Each article in this series will feature summaries of interesting studies to help you keep up to date on the latest in digital health research. We invite you to share your thoughts on the study in the comments section.

Health App Use Among US Mobile Phone Owners: A National Survey

1. What was the motivation behind your study?

Everyone seems to be talking about health apps, but little is known about health app use, which was surprising to us—especially because many people have smartphones so downloading a health app can be easy. Knowing why people use, and do not, use health-related apps is critical for advancing this area of healthcare.

2. Describe your study.

We conducted a survey of just over 1,600 smartphone users throughout the U.S. who took a short survey. Our survey assessed sociodemographic characteristics, history of and reasons for health app use/non use, perceived effectiveness of health apps, reasons for stopping use, and general health status.

3. What were the results of the study?

We found that a little over half of Americans are using a health-related app, primarily in the domains of fitness and nutrition. We also found greater use among minority populations, younger persons, among people who were obese, and those with higher incomes. Surprisingly we found that about 40% of people would not pay anything for a health app. Hidden costs and difficulty of data entry were main reasons people stopped using them.

4. What medical specialties does your study impact?

Health apps are targeted to a variety of conditions. While many health apps focus on fitness and diet, they can indeed focus on numerous conditions and domains inclusive of prevention/lifestyles, self-diagnosis, provider directories, diagnosis/education, prescription filling, and treatment compliance. For instance, health apps currently exist to track HIV medication and diabetes management—to name a few.

5. What was the most surprising finding from your study?

The most surprising finding was the high percentage (41%) that wouldn’t pay anything for a health app and that stopped using them because of hidden costs. In addition, it was surprising (also) that although most people who downloaded a health app felt that it improved their health, about half of them stopped using a health app.

6. What are the next steps? How do you envision this work ultimately translating into clinical practice or affecting R&D?

Our results overall have real implications for clinicians and app developers. It is clear that health apps need to be improved as almost half of the participants reported they downloaded health apps that they no longer use. In addition, even though people in our survey felt they were helpful, this is not sufficient rationale for doctors to recommend apps to patients. Lack of evidence likely limiting both their efficacy as well as enthusiasm from the healthcare sector, suggests the need for randomized clinical trials.

This Q&A was contributed by Dr. Paul Krebs and Dr. Dustin Duncan, who are both Assistant Professors in the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine.