Many Mobile Health Apps Target High-Need, High-Cost Populations, But Gaps Remain

Health Aff (Millwood). 2016 Dec 1;35(12):2310-2318. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2016.0578.


With rising smartphone ownership, mobile health applications (mHealth apps) have the potential to support high-need, high-cost populations in managing their health. While the number of available mHealth apps has grown substantially, no clear strategy has emerged on how providers should evaluate and recommend such apps to patients. Key stakeholders, including medical professional societies, insurers, and policy makers, have largely avoided formally recommending apps, which forces patients to obtain recommendations from other sources. To help stakeholders overcome barriers to reviewing and recommending apps, we evaluated 137 patient-facing mHealth apps-those intended for use by patients to manage their health-that were highly rated by consumers and recommended by experts and that targeted high-need, high-cost populations. We found that there is a wide variety of apps in the marketplace but that few apps address the needs of the patients who could benefit the most. We also found that consumers' ratings were poor indications of apps' clinical utility or usability and that most apps did not respond appropriately when a user entered potentially dangerous health information. Going forward, data privacy and security will continue to be major concerns in the dissemination of mHealth apps.

Keywords: Chronic Care; Consumer Issues; High-need; Mobile health; Patient engagement; high-cost populations.

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease / economics
  • Chronic Disease / therapy*
  • Comorbidity
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Humans
  • Mobile Applications / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Safety
  • Self Care
  • Smartphone
  • Telemedicine / economics*
  • Telemedicine / methods*