Are Mobile Health Apps the Answer?

An estimated 500 million people worldwide are expected to be using mobile healthcare applications by 2015. As of November 2010, there were nearly 17,000 health apps available in major app stores, with 57% aimed at consumers rather than healthcare professionals (HCPs).

So what does this mean?

Basically, if you design a mobile app that doesn’t just push information and that patients find valuable they can become a key component in patient education and compliance.

Unfortunately, there is no connection between the gold standard of public health recommendations/guidelines and these apps. 

What about the apps that are actually trying to change behavior—like weight-loss or quit smoking apps? Looking closely at the antismoking and weight-loss apps, it doesn’t even seem like they are that helpful. An MSNBC article points out, that early studies suggest that nearly all antismoking apps fail to connect users to proven methods that help people quit smoking. Weight-loss apps fare slightly better.

My geekiest of geeky friends is a perfect case study. He bought that fancy Withings scale (I REALLY WANT ONE) and it can actually send health information to your doctor if you choose to do it. He does not. Why? Not because he isn’t taking advantage of the data (he has it all delivered to his iPad, which he takes to his nutritionist), but because he just thinks it would be weird.

My first thought…would the doctor actually use this information to keep him on track in between visits? Would that make a person more apt to follow a healthier regimen, if they knew their doctor was constantly tracking them?

It is the difference of flashy toys and helpful tools. Reminders that you have set goals and that you have a network that can help you meet them. That is what is going to change behavior. Educating people about what can be done to change their health for the better. Showing them that while it is an uphill battle to treat their condition they are not alone…helping them comply.

Most of all it really comes down to accountability. If you are broadcasting to the world that you are going for a run and you use Runkeeper to log it—everyone knows that you did it. (Speaking of which, need to put in my run from yesterday into Daily Mile).

Behavior changes are the holy grail of public relations, especially in healthcare. With a few modifications and partnerships mobile apps have a good shot at making it possible.

Laney is a Senior Account Executive at Makovsky + Company where she looks at the intersection where patients, providers and payers converge around information.  Laney sees herself as the typical Gen Y social media lover who has the ability to mobilize other generations to focus on deploying all the technologies to inspire people to better health. You can find her on her blog or on Twitter where she talks PR, running and healthy living.