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Apps Stumble with Patient-Generated Health Data Burdens

"Consumers have problems with the interfaces on current apps rather than the concept of getting health information from apps in general."

- A new study looking at health app use among U.S mobile phone users shows a solid base of people willing to download health-related apps. However, patient-generated health data hasn’t yet become an evergreen asset because almost half of health app users stop using them over time.

Use of mobile health apps drops off over time, according to new research.

Researchers Paul Krebs, PhD, and Dustin Duncan, ScD, of New York University published their study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, based on a cross-sectional survey of 1,604 mobile phone users.

Overall, about 58 percent of respondents had downloaded a health-related mobile app, with the most common categories being fitness and nutrition. Those respondents who had not downloaded apps cited lack of interest, cost and concerns about apps collecting their data. Among the active users, most felt the apps had improved their health, and “trust in their accuracy and data safety was quite high,” according to the authors. Nonetheless, 46 percent reported that their usage of some apps had stopped, primarily due to data-entry burdens, loss of interest and hidden costs.

Respondents who discontinued app use cited the following reasons:

  • Took too much time to enter data  — 44 percent
  • Loss of interest — 40 percent
  • Hidden costs — 36 percent
  • Apps were confusing to use  — 33 percent
  • Apprehension about apps sharing data with friends — 29 percent

Out of the total set of respondents, 57 percent said they would be somewhat or very interested in the ability to make appointments, or communicate with, their doctors. About 62 percent said they would like to be able to view their medical records. However, less than 10 percent said that they used such features at the time of the study.

“Some respondents wanted an all-in-one system such that they did not have to use multiple medical-related apps. Participants described a desire for an app that would keep track of all their vital statistics (weight, diet, sleep, etc.) to better communicate with their doctors during appointments (i.e., linking with and inputting these data into their medical record),” the study report states.

Likelihood of app use increased by about 30 percent for those respondents earning more than $75,000 per year, but decreased for those earning less than $25,000. Additionally, individuals with higher body-mass index tended (BMI) to be about 11 percent more likely too use apps than persons in the normal BMI range. Cost factored in as well, with a large proportion of respondents saying that they would not pay anything for a health app.

Qualitative responses from the study show that consumers want improved health information capacity from their apps, with more specific and tailored health suggestions, according to the co-authors. “This discrepancy may indicate that consumers have problems with the interfaces available on current apps rather than the concept of getting health information from apps in general,” they write.

Noted limitations in the study included self-reporting of responses and the cross-sectional nature of the data, which would likely show variations in use patterns over time.

The co-authors conclude that app developers “need to better address consumer concerns, such as cost and high data-entry burden, and that clinical trials are necessary to test the efficacy of health apps to broaden their appeal and adoption.”

 

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