Do Health Apps Work?

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Person looking at their smart watchFrom mobile phone programs to wearable health-related devices, health apps, also known as mHealth or mobile health apps, are being utilized more than ever before. mHealth applications are rapidly transforming the way health services and information are accessed, delivered and managed. According to the Health Well Foundation, mHealth apps have already amassed over 60 million users in the United States alone. According to the World Health Organization, 83 percent of that body’s 112 participating nations report the presence of at least one mHealth initiative in their country. Recent and future graduates in the University of Illinois at Chicago Master of Science in Health Informatics online degree will find themselves with a variety of potential professional pathways based on the collection, protection and implementation of health-related data.

The Current Scope of mHealth Apps

From analysis of and user-friendly translations of this data to its security and potential uses in clinical settings, Health Apps and the numerous medical/professional disciplines under their umbrella are growing in size and scope. Further insight into the burgeoning field of mHealth applications illustrates that while much is still unknown regarding the effectiveness of health apps themselves, preliminary data does in fact show that such applications spur healthy activities and self-monitoring behaviors that can result in several benefits.

There are two major types of health apps that are most prevalent today: those focused on healthy eating and nutrition and those focused on physical fitness and activity. Growing, but lesser subsets of health app categories include integrative health/well-being apps and health apps geared specifically towards children. Both of these smaller subsets promote behaviors such as adequate sleep, promoting positive thinking, cessation, wearing sunscreen, quitting or avoiding use of tobacco products and reducing stress.

How to Gauge mHealth App Effectiveness

There are also newly emerging fields for mHealth apps that, while lacking a robust user population and presence today, are expected to achieve considerable growth in the not-too-distant future. These include portable medical advice and patient community portals as well as hospital selection tools and appointment management systems.

With over 100,000 health apps on the market today, it’s not yet possible to determine which are effective and which could even be causing potential harm. That said, with an estimated $26 billion dollars in sales estimated in 2017, it’s clear that the mHealth craze is here to stay. According to the Health Well Foundation, Mobile health apps are expected to exceed $3 billion in global sales by 2019.

How can mHealth apps be effective? First by providing a platform for clear, organized tracking of their health related data. mHealth apps serve as virtual notebooks with which users can track everything from steps to individual meals, their exercise regimens, even sleep patterns. Organized, user-friendly data tracking makes it easier for mHealth users to set health-oriented goals and track their data as they attempt to achieve them. Whether it’s tracking streaks of consecutive days exercising, or logging consecutive days without using tobacco products, mHealth apps provide users with an instantly-accessible tool where health progressive can be monitored in real time, a means that’s far more rewarding than bi-annual trips to primary care providers.

The Future of Health Apps

Despite their widespread popularity and impressive sales market, the realm of mHealth apps is still uncharted territory, and one whose future may be tied to the coursework undertaken by students in UIC’s Master of Science in Health Informatics program. The next few decades will witness a collaboration by both e-service providers, health care policy makers, hospitals and specialists to forge new standards within which safe, effective and reputable mHealth technologies can be fostered. This is of particular importance given the potential of mHealth technologies in providing a new communication channel for health promotion and community mobilization —particularly in impoverished communities both in the United States and abroad.

Efforts are already underway by major governing bodies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who in December of 2016 released a series of guidelines for both developers and distributors of mHealth apps. The FDA is particularly focused on the merger between mHealth apps and mHealth devices, rather mobile medical devices that both collect data and include interactive platforms for users, such as vital sign trackers, ECG monitors, glucose monitors and heart rate monitors.

Students who enroll in UIC’s Master of Science in Health Informatics online program can be prepared to pursue several emerging professions in the mHealth industry. They include a variety of roles involved with the collection, storage and evaluation of mHealth-related data.

For example, security specialists with health informatics backgrounds are expected to be in high demand. As more organizations across the United States begin to implement EHRs, protecting the data and private information of patients can be a major concern for hospitals and healthcare systems. In addition, those with a background in contemporary health informatics will be needed as mobile specialists/developers to take advantage of existing programs and apps and integrate them into hospital and healthcare systems.
To show that newly implemented mHealth systems are actually improving patient care and health management, hospitals and health care systems and the government bodies that oversee them will also need data analysts to make sense of the vast amount of information mHealth apps can potentially yield.

Given the personal nature of much of the data collected and stored by mHealth applications, the trend has given rise to the field of mHealth data security. In addition to requiring mHealth apps and associated devices to abide by state and federal laws related to the privacy and security of patients, mHealth data security professionals must also ensure that such apps do not become compromised by cybercriminals.

For more information on the UIC online MSHI program, reach out to an enrollment advisor today.

Recommended Readings:

The power of health informatics in improving patient outcomes

The role of health informatics in increasing patient engagement


NY Times 
HealthWell Foundation, “Millennials are Shaping the Future of Health Apps” 
AMA, “More big names join effort to help improve mHealth apps” 
National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, “An Evaluation of Mobile Health Application Tools”