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Mobile Health Apps and the Demand for Personalized Care (Part 2 of 3)

Posted on June 17, 2014 by Anne Snowdon

Last summer, researchers at the International Centre for Health Innovation (the Centre) performed an analysis of the most popular health apps to define the purpose of each app and to examine the value these apps may offer consumers outside of the traditional health system.1 The “Top 100” most popular apps were generated for both Android and iPhone operating systems for two categories, health and fitness and medical, which then underwent content analysis to find major themes.

Our study found the widespread use of health apps by consumers is related to self-management of personal health and wellness. Among the health apps appearing on the “Top 100” lists for both Android and iPhone systems, the majority were targeted towards consumers and were focused on tracking and monitoring, coaching and training, and decision support. Tracking and monitoring apps enable consumers to record specific measures to map their progress towards personal health goals. Examples included using apps to track calorie intake for dieting, measuring the distance a person is walking, and recording heart rates/ blood pressure. Coaching and training apps offer instructional programs to assist and support managing lifestyle behaviours. Coaching programs included exercise regimes, sleep enhancement, meditation techniques, and stress management therapies. Decision support apps provide consumers with information to help them make informed choices about their health and wellness. For example, there were many apps focused on fertility information for women that offered insights to support healthy behaviours related to pregnancy, including teaching women how to make good decisions to achieve a healthy pregnancy and a healthy newborn.

Although consumers are able to download apps with a medical focus, such as diagnosis or disease, they chose to focus their efforts on personalized programs, tools, and strategies to self-manage their health and wellness. Very few of the health apps on the “Top 100” lists were designed for specific disease management decisions, such as diabetes. In fact, these disease management apps comprised less than five per cent of all of the “Top 100” health apps downloaded by consumers. Our results were similar to findings in other studies.

The explosion of health apps offers a golden opportunity to engage consumers using tools they are already familiar with and constantly accessing, namely their cell phones and tablets. Health apps and the technologies through which they are conveyed, hold the potential to not only change how healthcare is delivered, they allow for the rapid, global dissemination of health innovation and knowledge in a way that has been previously unavailable. Health apps have the potential to bring together and engage patients, peers, experts, and health services worldwide through social networking platforms. However, formalized health systems currently run parallel to and distinct from the consumer health system. The question is why are health systems so slow to engage, leverage and integrate consumers’ drive for personalization of health services focused not on disease, but on health and wellness personalized to their unique needs?

Notes:1 This analysis was conducted from June 4th to June 11th, 2013.

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Anne Snowdon blog75Dr. Anne Snowdon

Dr. Anne Snowdon has dedicated much of her career to producing research and advancing innovation that will improve the health and well being of Canadians. As Academic Chair of the International Centre for Health Innovation at Western University's Ivey Business School, Dr. Snowdon leads the Centre's work to drive health system sustainability and productivity. She is a professor at Western University's Ivey Business School and Faculty of Health Sciences, and is cross-appointed to the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the Faculty of Engineering.

Dr. Snowdon has published more than 70 research articles and received over $7 million in research grants. She holds a PhD in Nursing from the University of Michigan. She is a Fulbright Scholar and was awarded the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellowship for her doctoral research.

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