Mobile apps and mHealth have become vital parts of healthcare. Because of the importance of mobile for health care, many researchers have studied the success of mobile apps and mHealth. Here is a short overview of the most important results of these scientific studies for health care professionals.
Many mobile apps have been designed to improve patient’s health. At this moment, there are over 100,000 health apps to help users with their diet, fitness or medicine intake. Therefore, the choice of available apps in the app stores is extensive to say the least. But what determines the success of these health apps?
In a study  (2017) of consumers in the United States, the influence of demographic features on the intention to use apps was examined. The study also looked at whether there is a relationship between app use and the intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as the amount of exercise of these users with various demographic features.
The researchers analysed demographic predictors for the use of mobile phones and apps, based on public data from the Health Information National Trends Survey (2015). Also, the relationship between app use, the intention to change behaviour and actual change in vitamin intake and physical activity was measured.
Is was shown that most app users were in fact younger people with a higher income. App usage was seen to have a positive influence on healthier eating and exercising. The behaviour to change one’s health also was shown to be a direct result of app usage.
This means that health apps seem to be effective for younger people in the higher social-demographic segment, the app is a valuable tool to improve their health. Depending on the target audience of your health app, you may have to find other ways to entice older people and people in the lower social-demographic segment to use your app for them to enjoy the benefits of healthier approach to life.
Besides health apps there are many more mobile tools health professionals use to improve their patients’ wellbeing. For example, SMS messages are sent to remind patients not to eat or drink before surgery. Pharmacies can send automated SMS reminders when a new prescription is ready to be picked up. And doctors can send SMS messages to remind diabetes patients to take their medicine on time.
In this second study  (2017), there was research on the influence of SMS messages on the glucose control, retinopathy screening and self-care of patients with Diabetes type II. For this study, 20 diabetes patients received informative messages and notifications on their mobile for a period of three months.
From evaluation of the data it was shown that both the glucose control and the screening for diabetic retinopathy improved dramatically since receiving these SMS messages. Also, the respondents stated their self-care had improved, proving the effectiveness of SMS messages for these patients. SMS messages are a valuable tool because they are available to patients without smartphones or internet access. This makes SMS notifications and reminders an essential tool if you want to reach and improve the health of a broad target audience, which includes the elderly and patients in the lower social-demographic segment.
But considering the effectiveness of health apps, the previous study doesn’t mean there is only room for SMS in mobile communication within health care. The richer content of apps and the cheaper Push messages offer many opportunities to improve the health of users (see study 1). Besides, apps offer more ways to increase the involvement of your patients. But how can you make sure your app is used by your target audience?
For the development of health apps, insights in the users’ expectations of your total target audience is essential. For that reason, study  (2017) examined the features each app should include to ensure they are used consistently. To answer this, a qualitative study was performed on adolescents with diabetes and the parents of younger diabetic patients. The respondents were asked what would motivate them to use health-tracking apps. The data collected was divided under three motivators: personalisation, interactivity and tangible results.
Here, personalisation means that the health app should be customisable. This means the user should be able to add his favourite foods, motivating texts or find information on nutritional value. Also, determining what time the user receives notifications and reminders was one of the drivers for patients to use the app.
Interactivity was also shown to be a great influence on the intention to use the app on a regular basis. This means the user doesn’t only want to receive messages, but also to be able to use the app in a valuable way. For example, users wanted to be part of a team. The adolescents proposed an in-app game where they could team up with other users. Scoring points by actively using the app, according to this group, would be a motivator.
The third and final motivator for app use is in line with the previous one. Adding tangible results would entice users to use the app. For example, by scoring points which would then enrich the user’s avatar (eg. by adding a hat or sunglasses). Rewards like this were mostly mentioned by the younger users. Parents mentioned rewards in the form of points which could be used to make a purchase in the Amazon or Apple iStore.
The most successful type of interaction and tangible results will depend on your goal and target audience. Also, the design of your app should be made suitable for your target audience. For example, do you want your patients to take their medicines regularly or do you want to help them limit and measure their calorie intake? To design a health app that appeals to the patient or consumer and makes them want to use regularly, you might ask your target audience for their wishes and needs. What type of interaction and results do they expect?
No matter what goal your mobile communication in health care should meet, this question applies. Make sure you know the desires and expectations of your target audience. Choose between SMS or apps, depending on your target audience, and ask them what would motivate them to use the app or react to the message. CM has extensive experience in the development of apps and mobile communication via SMS, Push and Hybrid messaging in health care. Want to know more about the possibilities of mobile for your organisation? Contact our sector specialist Ger Thijssen. He can tell you more about the latest developments in mobile in the health sector and the possibilities of our products.
 Carroll, J. K., Moorhead, A., Bond, R., LeBlanc, W. G., Petrella, R. J., & Fiscella, K. (2017). Who Uses Mobile Phone Health Apps and Does Use Matter? A Secondary Data Analytics Approach. Journal of medical Internet research, 19(4).
 Miller, J. M., Phalen, A. G., Crawford, A., Frisby, A., & Ziring, B. S. (2017). Text Messaging in the Patient-Centered Medical Home to Improve Glucose Control and Retinopathy Screening. Health Equity, 1(1), 2-6.
 Holtz, B. E., Murray, K. M., Hershey, D. D., Dunneback, J. K., Cotten, S. R., Holmstrom, A. J., ... & Wood, M. A. (2017). Developing a Patient-Centered mHealth App: A Tool for Adolescents With Type 1 Diabetes and Their Parents. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 5(4).
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