Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Health Education

Smartphone Technology and Apps: Rapidly Changing Health Promotion

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Health Education

Smartphone Technology and Apps: Rapidly Changing Health Promotion

Article excerpt


Smartphone technology and health applications are transforming health promotion. Smartphones are mobile devices with additional capabilities such as email, text messaging, video viewing, and wireless Internet access. (1) Applications, or apps, are downloadable software products that run on mobile devices. (2) The emerging health technologies support the Healthy People 2020 Health Communication and Information Technology goals and objectives which include the increased use of mobile devices to improve health outcomes and health quality and achieve health equity. (3)

Smartphones are small, always on, and carried on the person during the day. (4) Smartphones, with the potential to outnumber personal computers in the near future,5 are owned by 40 to 50% of Americans, and their use continues to grow. (6,7) Smartphones run over wireless communication networks and open operating platforms such as iPhone OS, BlackBerry OS, and Android. (6) Interestingly, the 55- to 64-year old age cohort was the fastest-growing age group for smartphone adoption in 2011 with an increase in use from 17% to 30%. (8) Many developing countries have even skipped mainframe computer development and moved directly to mobile broadband and smartphones to meet their computing infrastructure needs. (8)

Data trends show an increased use of smartphones by minority populations. African-Americans use mobile technology for daily Web searches at a 10% higher rate than the national average, (6) and Hispanics (25%) are more likely to search for health information using their mobile phones than non-Hispanics (15%). (9) Access to the Web through stationary computer desktop or laptop or having home broadband connection has been traditionally lower for American minorities and people in developing countries. This disparity decreases, though, with mobile use.

Health apps on smartphones are one of the most highly used apps as nearly 30% of U.S. adults use health apps.10 It is projected that 500 million people globally by 2015 will be using health apps. (11) Pew Internet research suggested adults ages 30 to 49 (32%) used health apps slightly more often than adults ages 18 to 29 (28%) and 50 and older age (20%) with numbers increasing annually for all adult age groups. (10)

Apps are available covering a range of health topics including healthy lifestyles, fitness, disease management, and public health. (12) Over 17,000 mobile health and medical apps are available across all app stores with over 70% targeted to health professionals. (6) Medical apps are being used by physicians for medical reference, medical alerts, general diagnosis, lab work and digital image delivery, tracking or monitoring patients, and continuing medical education. (2,6) Apps are also being used more by students as a primary way to conveniently access digital information. (13)

Despite the increased availability of smartphones and apps, little is known about smartphone technology and apps for implementation in health promotion practice and health outcomes. Recent studies, though, suggest health apps may have the potential to support interventions for health behavior changes. (1,14) It is important, therefore, for health promotion professionals to understand how to use smartphones in health interventions. The purpose of this article was to provide an overview of smartphone technology and health apps for health promotion interventions in 1) healthcare, 2) consumer health/behavior change, and 3) education as well as considerations for health education specialists when choosing health apps for interventions.

Smartphones and Health Apps for Health Promotion Interventions


The widespread use of mobile technologies will have the potential to move healthcare from episodic to continuous care through constant innovation. (7) Compared to programs in the classrooms or on stationary computers, health education specialists can use mobile health behavior change interventions to be more highly-interactive. …

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