As the mobile health apps market explodes, health consumers have been inundated with thousands of tools purporting to help them count calories, track work-outs, control diabetes, quit smoking and so forth.
There are nearly 8,000 health-related apps in the iTunes library alone. Of these, about 60% focus on diet, 20% on exercise, 9% on resistance training and 7% on improving sleep. Although the iTunes app store doesn’t publish download counts, the top free health-related app on the Android Market—an exercise monitoring device known as CardioTracker—has been downloaded between 1 million and 5 million times.
With this panoply of new resources a few clicks away, people have begun to wonder, “Do they actually improve health?”
Perhaps not, sadly. At least not yet. For example, a recent study by mobile health app analyst Pamela Culver revealed that a whopping 26% of people who downloaded a health-related app used it just once (in fairness, many of them probably moved-on to another app). Meanwhile, another study revealed that one-third of those who use health apps do not use them as their developers intended.
Aside from the fact that many health-related apps are as visually appealing as a 1987 version of Super Mario Brothers, there are 2 major reasons why these tools have yet to live-up to their promise. Let’s take a look at them:
Failure to Leverage Clinical Guidelines
A galling problem with many health-related apps is that they do not incorporate tried-and-true methods to positively impact the behavior they supposedly target.
A study by George Washington University professor Lorien Abroms and colleagues recently made this point in spades. Abroms’ team reviewed 47 quit smoking apps that were available through the iTunes library. The apps ranged in price from free to $9.99. Nearly a third of them amounted to calendars which counted days since, or days until a quit date. An equal number of apps functioned to calculate dollars saved or health benefits accrued by kicking the habit. The remainder were an unsavory mash-up of cigarette rationing tools, hypnosis tools and, vey is mir, “virtual cigarettes” that people are supposed to use to pretend they are smoking. (more…)