The Continued Use of Mobile Health Apps: Insights From a Longitudinal Study

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Aug 29;7(8):e12983. doi: 10.2196/12983.


Background: Mobile health (mHealth) apps that support individuals pursuing health and wellness goals, such as weight management, stress management, smoking cessation, and self-management of chronic conditions have been on the rise. Despite their potential benefits, the use of these tools has been limited, as most users stop using them just after a few times of use. Under this circumstance, achieving the positive outcomes of mHealth apps is less likely.

Objective: The objective of this study was to understand continued use of mHealth apps and individuals' decisions related to this behavior.

Methods: We conducted a qualitative longitudinal study on continued use of mHealth apps. We collected data through 34 pre- and postuse interviews and 193 diaries from 17 participants over two weeks.

Results: We identified 2 dimensions that help explain continued use decisions of users of mHealth apps: users' assessment of mHealth app and its capabilities (user experience) and their persistence at their health goals (intent). We present the key factors that influence users' assessment of an mHealth app (interface design, navigation, notifications, data collection methods and tools, goal management, depth of knowledge, system rules, actionable recommendations, and user system fit) and relate these factors to previous literature on behavior change technology design. Using these 2 dimensions, we developed a framework that illustrated 4 decisions users might make after initial interaction with mHealth apps (to abandon use, limit use, switch app, and continue use). We put forth propositions to be explored in future research on mHealth app use.

Conclusions: This study provides insight into the factors that shape users' decisions to continue using mHealth apps, as well as other likely decision scenarios after the initial use experience. The findings contribute to extant knowledge of mHealth use and provide important implications for design of mHealth apps to increase long-term engagement of the users.

Keywords: IT assessment; attrition; continued use; digital health; goal persistence; law of attrition; mHealth; mobile app; mobile health; smartphone; use decisions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Computers*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobile Applications / standards*
  • Mobile Applications / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Qualitative Research