NPR recently released a great article on health apps and their usage to date. The article refers to a report by IMS Institute for Health Informatics that states that (as per iTunes Store June 2013) there are about 43,689 Apps categorized as "Healthcare and Fitness" or "Medical." However, about 20,000 of them are miscategorized as they are more along the lines of fashion, beauty, spa, etc. First, this helps understand the reality, in comparison to the big numbers thrown around everywhere these days. Second, and more interestingly, out of the remaining 23,682 Apps, only 16,275 are consumer facing. The rest (7,407) are healthcare provider facing. Another good reality check.
Similarly, Android health apps constitute about 33,250 apps. Lots of great stats; so far so good? You ready for the next stat that may surprise you? Here it is: of the Android health apps, more than 50% were downloaded fewer than 500 times! Surprised? Shocked? Rightfully so.
However, this really begs the question, "Why are we not using health apps to be healthier?" The IMS report touches on many reasons including consumer confusion, lack of evidence (that an app really works), limited functionality, mismatch between smartphone users and those with chronic illnesses (elderly), just to name a few.
No wonder a similar sentiment was shared last year at HealthBeat 2013, by David Levin, Chief Medical Information Officer at Cleveland Clinic, who referred to most health apps as "CrApps", (crappy apps). HealthBeat did outline the five most promising apps in the same article.
Why are we not using health apps to be healthier? Perhaps as humans we are not yet evolved to truly and consciously be concerned about our own health (at least most of us are that way). We only go see a doctor when we are sick and most of us don’t fully utilize all the preventive services offered to us through our insurance. Accordingly to a 2010 report, "Encouraging appropriate use of Preventive Health Services" by Mathematica Policy Research, nationally, Americans use preventive services at about half the recommended rate even when they are insured.
Call to Action
As a society, we really need to start looking at other ways to keep ourselves healthy. One very powerful method would be to bring in our loved ones to the mix. Primarily because people who love us and care about us the most, are actually one of the biggest stakeholders for our health (in some cases more than ourselves). For example, I am more likely to go for a run when my wife (who loves me dearly) pushes me to do the same, as compared to an app, which is very easy to turn off. Similarly, I pushed my wife to get an eye exam by finding the eye doctor, making an appointment, and driving her to the clinic when she continued to get headaches due to using older prescription lenses. There are tons of very similar examples everywhere right in front of us that we experience on a daily basis. I also shared the same insight at a recent panel discussion at the Brookings Institute on the modernization of healthcare through mobile technology.
Bottom line is that we care more about our loved ones than our loved ones care about themselves. App developers should focus more around developing apps to help the loved ones care for the patients, or consumers who need to be healthier, then the patients themselves.
Although our company has created an app that addresses this need, Caremerge's Family App — one of the first revolutionary health apps for families to stay on top of their elderly loved ones' wellbeing in real-time — we are the lone ranger. Furthermore, while the IMS report is fantastic, it misses the loved ones as one of the key stakeholders of our health. Before we (humans) evolve to understand and take care of our personal health proactively, our loved ones could be a stop gap in achieving better healthcare outcomes for us in the immediate future.