Helping Consumers Find the Right Mobile Health Apps

There’s an app for everything – and that includes some 30,000 to 40,000 apps designed to help consumers better manage their health, according to industry estimates.

While such health and fitness apps continue to proliferate, the challenge for consumers is to separate the wheat from the chaff and find an app that truly can help them better manage their health. Indeed, data from a 2011 Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that about 88% of U.S. residents had a mobile phone and about 50% of those were smartphones, yet only about 10% of smartphone users had downloaded health-related apps, a figure that remained steady since 2010.

"We are in a situation where we have the technology and we certainly have the need -- just look at all of the statistics on the rise of obesity and other unhealthy trends," said Susannah Fox, lead health researcher for the project. "But what we have not yet seen is an uptick in the percentage of people who are adopting and using these health apps."

Thankfully, industry organizations and leaders now are stepping up to the plate to help consumers navigate the overwhelming healthcare app landscape.

For example, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) published Just Think App Mobile Health Apps 101: A Primer for Consumers. Posted to myPhr.com, the guide is designed to help consumers make the best choices before downloading health-related applications that monitor specific medical conditions or that improve overall health. The guide provides questions for consumers to consider when evaluating the merits of a specific app.

 “Mobile health can be an effective tool for consumers to become more connected and engaged in their own healthcare,” said AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon. “At the same time, consumers must be educated and make sure the apps they are using keep their personal health information private and secure. This guide gives consumers insight into what they should consider when making decisions about health apps.”

In a recent blog that ran on KevinMD.com, Leslie Kernisan, M.D., warns against using apps for “every little medical condition” and recommends that clinicians work with their patient to choose a “few high-yield apps based on a whole-person approach to managing healthcare.”

To do so, Kernisan recommends that clinicians and patients work together to:

* Review use of the app in the context of the overall big picture of the person’s health, and the overall goals of medical care
* Be explicit about the purpose of the app and expected benefits
* Plan a future time to review use of the app and assess whether the benefit justifies continued use
* Periodically consider winnowing down the number of apps being used