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Mobile health is starting to come of age. In 2010, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that just 17 percent of cell phone owners used their devices to look up health information. But in a study released Thursday, the organization said that figure has climbed to 31 percent.
Mobile health is unsurprisingly even more popular among smartphone users, with 52 percent saying they have consulted their gadgets with medical questions.
The study, which is based on a national survey of more than 3,000 U.S. adults, also revealed that young adults and minorities are more likely to use their phones for health information. Caregivers and those who recently went through a medical crisis or significant change in their health status are other groups more likely to jump on the mobile health bandwagon.
Among healthcare providers and public health organizations, delivering health reminders and information via text message is gaining traction – the Centers for Disease Control, startups and health providers are all starting to use text messages to help patients quit smoking, control hypertension, manage diabetes and other conditions. But though 80 percent of cell phone owners say they send and receive text messages in general, Pew said just a small minority (9 percent) of them send or receive text alerts related to health.
Pew also reported that one-fifth of smartphone owners — particularly those who are women, under age 50, better educated or with an annual household income over $75,000 — have downloaded a health app. The most popular kinds of health apps are exercise, diet and weight, with 38 percent of health app users tracking their exercise, 31 percent monitoring their diet and 12 percent using apps to manage their weight.
As we’ve covered before, even though mobile health adoption and investments are growing, some say the majority of health apps are subpar and rarely get repeated use. Industry watchers also say that while patients are becoming more interested in using health apps, doctors have been reluctant to join the trend. A report released earlier this year by PriceWaterhouseCoopers said doctors cited the lack of training, liability issues and workflow disruptions as reasons for their reluctance to embrace the trend. But health apps have the potential to become powerful vehicles for patient engagement and patient-doctor communication, and as private companies and public regulators provide guidelines for app makers, the quality apps and doctor support could increase.