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New Studies of Health Management Apps

December 2015

By Tom Stibolt, MD, Mobile Musings Column Editor

There have been a couple of interesting developments in mobile apps for disease management.

Fitness and Nutrition Apps
The first include the results of a recent survey of health app users, which was carried out by researchers at New York University Langone Medical Center and is published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research mHealth and uHealth. The researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey of 1,604 mobile phone users throughout the U.S. They used a 36-item survey which assessed sociodemographic characteristics, history of and reasons for health app use/nonuse, perceived effectiveness of health apps, reasons for stopping use, and general health status. About half of the respondents had downloaded a health-related app. The most common apps used were for fitness and nutrition. Most respondents reported using these apps daily. Reasons given most frequently for not downloading apps were cost, lack of interest and fear that the apps would collect personal data. The users most likely to use health apps were generally younger, had higher incomes, were more educated, were Latino/Hispanic, and had a body mass index in the obese range (all P<.05).

The cost was an interesting finding in that many respondents stated that they were unwilling to pay for health apps. Among those that had downloaded apps, trust in their accuracy and data safety was high, and most felt that the apps had improved their health. About half of the respondents had stopped using some health apps, primarily due to high data entry burden, loss of interest, and hidden costs. The researchers conclude that app developers need to consider consumer concerns, including cost and time spent entering data. They also conclude that clinical trials are necessary to test the efficacy of health apps to broaden their appeal and adoption.

Asthma Action Plan App
The second development results from a study presented at the 2015 American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting. It describes use of an iPhone app that provides residents practicing in an outpatient setting with appropriate asthma action plans. The presenter notes that, although asthma action plans have been clearly demonstrated to improve patient outcomes, care providers often are uncomfortable in creating them.

Residents participated in a survey to measure pre- and post-intervention results from use of the iPhone app. Residents were given a seminar on the use of action plans and the iPhone app, and then used them in clinical practice. Prior to implementation of the app, 48 percent of residents did not know where to find an asthma action plan and an additional 34 percent did not know how to use one. Once the app was introduced to the residents, 87 percent of residents reported that they planned to use the action plan in the future and 67 percent reported a better familiarity with the use of an action plan. Further, prior to using the app, only 2 percent of residents reported they always used an action plan. Afterwards, 27 percent of residents reported that they always used the action plan. Also, those who reported never using the action plan decreased from 13 percent to 0 percent. (The app, My Asthma Pal, is available for free in the App Store.)

 

Editor’s note: The ATS does not endorse any of the programs or products mentioned in this column.

Last Reviewed: September 2017