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News You Can Use | Few use apps to track health

Americans have been slow to use smartphone technology for health, says a survey
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First Published: Mon, Jan 28 2013. 09 14 PM IST
Nineteen per cent of smartphone owners in the US have downloaded a health-related app.
Nineteen per cent of smartphone owners in the US have downloaded a health-related app.
Updated: Mon, Jan 28 2013. 09 15 PM IST
US consumers are being offered a cornucopia of smartphone apps to track or manage health, but only a small number of people are using them, according to a survey released on Monday.
The Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project study, which interviewed 3,014 adults across the country, found that only about 7% of the people surveyed used a smartphone app to track a health indicator like weight, diet, exercise routine or to monitor a chronic disease such as diabetes.
“There’s still a low uptake in terms of apps and technology,” said lead researcher Susannah Fox.
“It is surprising. We’ve been looking at health apps since 2010, and health-app uptake has been essentially flat for three years.”
“The explosion of mobile devices means that more Americans have an opportunity to start tracking health data in an organized way,” Fox told The New York Times (NYT).
But the research suggests that consumers have been slow to latch on to smartphone technology for health despite hundreds of new apps to manage weight and track blood pressure, pregnancy, blood sugar, diabetes or medication.
An NYT report said more than 500 companies are making or developing self-management tools according to Health 2.0, a market intelligence project that keeps a database of health technology companies. Nearly 13,000 health and fitness apps are available.
“There’s a proliferation of choices, and consumers are being faced with a food court of options,” Fox told AFP.
“What we see is that consumers are losing their appetite.”
Fox said her research and other studies have shown that systematic tracking for health issues is helpful.
“People are reporting that tracking as an activity is having an impact,” she said.
“But I can’t make a judgement on whether it’s better to use paper and pencil or an app.”
The researchers found that 19% of smartphone owners have downloaded an app related to health, although these were not necessarily used for monitoring a specific health issue.
Exercise, diet and weight features are the most popular types of health apps downloaded, the study found. Some 38% of health app users track their exercise, 31% monitor their diet and 12% use an app to manage their weight.
Around one in seven adults surveyed track a health indicator like weight, diet or exercise routine for themselves or another person.
Roughly half of those tracking their health or symptoms said they keep track of progress “in their heads”, with 21% using some form of technology, which could include a spreadsheet, medical device or app.
The study found that a third of all “trackers” share their data with someone else, most often a medical professional. It also found that a “notable number” of trackers with chronic conditions said they do not keep formal records.
Some 37% of people with two or more conditions said they memorize progress notes, as do 48% of those who are monitoring a single health issue.
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First Published: Mon, Jan 28 2013. 09 14 PM IST
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