Best practices missing from mobile health apps


The mobile health app industry is exploding and insurers have been increasing their offerings to keep their members healthy and temper rising healthcare costs. But are they offering apps that use best practices for achieving success?

Most fitness apps don't incorporate scientifically tested motivational tools. Instead, the most popular fitness apps emphasize teaching consumers how to perform the exercise, found a new study from Penn State University published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"You need motivational support to turn that knowledge into action," David Conroy, a professor of kinesiology at Penn State and study author, told NPR Shots.

Only a little more than half of the 200 apps analyzed offered a few behavior change techniques, such as providing feedback on performance, goal setting and social support.

What's more, only 10 apps provided rewards based on consumers' progress toward achieving a goal. The problem is knowing how to create an app that provides the right amount of support. Consumers need different motivational support when they start an exercise program compared to when they're continuing on with their routine, Conroy said.

"After a few weeks you find it easier to say, 'I'll skip it today to work on this project,'" he told NRP Shots. "Those little lapses build, and you're back where you started."

Another problem with health apps is the industry hasn't learned how to effectively harness all the data. "One of the big challenges we're having as a field now is how to make that data useful," Conroy added. "We're drowning in data points without really capitalizing on them to change behavior more effectively."

To learn more:
- here's the Penn State statement
- read the NPR Shots article

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