Health-related smartphone apps have been on the market for years, and have evolved from one-dimensional offerings such as basic calorie counters, to multi-dimensional applications that enable users to track their weight loss and share their progress with their social networks. Perhaps this can be attributed to what the Pew Internet & American Life Project refers to as the “apps culture.”
So what’s next?
According to tech blog Mashable, the sports, fitness, and wellness mobile app market is projected to nearly quadruple in size from 2010 to 2016, and more than 40,000 health apps exist and are expected to bring in $1.3 billion in 2012. WellDoc – a medical app developer profiled in a recent New York Times article – has taken what’s seen by many medical professionals as the next step in medical app development. In 2010, the company received FDA clearance to market their DiabetesManager® System to healthcare providers and their adult patients with Type 2 diabetes. According to the New York Times, DiabetesManager can be used through an app or mobile phone, and collects biometric information such as a patient’s blood sugar levels and medication regimen. This is where many health-related apps stop. DiabetesManager goes a step further and runs the data patients enter through a proprietary analytics system, which identifies trends and delivers educational and behavioral coaching based on the data. A few insurance companies have already agreed to pay the bill for patients whose doctors ask them to use the system.
One of the most important questions for marketers is — who’s using these apps?
In a recent survey conducted in conjunction with Nielsen, Pew points out that having apps and using apps are not synonymous. Of adults in the U.S. who have apps on their mobile phones, approximately two-thirds use the software. That means only 24% of adults in the U.S. are active apps users. And seniors – an audience segment that could benefit immensely from health-related apps – have particularly low app usage. App users tend to be younger, more educated, and more affluent than other mobile phone users.
So while app usage may be on the rise, the data suggest it’s rising among a small subset of Americans. Also, when you compare Pew’s data with data that suggest most chronically ill Americans tend to be low-income, things get even more complicated. If app users tend to be more affluent, are the chronically ill really benefitting from the “apps culture”?
I don’t know the answer, but I hope the social marketing community rises to the challenge. If developers really believe their apps have the ability to enhance our wellbeing, the new wave of health related apps need to reach the people who need them most.