In defense of mobile health apps adoption

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsLast week we wrote about the Pew Internet & American Life Project's report on mobile health apps adoption, which the research group pegged at 9 percent among US adults with mobile phones. To my surprise during this past week a number of publications covered this report as a sign of "weak" adoption for mobile health. Weak! Really?

On Pew's site the report's author, Susannah Fox teased the report as such: "The online health-information environment is going mobile, particularly among younger adults." The report itself, by the way, never characterizes adoption rates as "weak."

Furthermore, at last week's Connected Health Symposium here in Boston, Kristen Purcell, the associate director for research at the Pew Internet & American Life Project discussed the report's findings as part of an analyst roundtable. Purcell characterized mobile health app adoption like so:

"One in ten have health apps -- that's higher than we expected. We also thought it would be an older population. African American adults are actually the heaviest health app users. It's an urban population and a very small one. It's still small but it reminds us of when we first started measuring social network site use," Purcell said. "Back then it was a young, affluent user group and today the fastest growing segment of social network users are adults 50-years-old and older. We are expecting a similar pattern with apps."

According to the recently released mobile health report, 15 percent of 18- to 29-year olds had a mobile health app on their phone compared to 8 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds; 6 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds; and 5 percent of people 65-years-old and older. Back in 2005, Pew released findings from a similar survey about social networking site adoption. The adoption rates among those same age groups closely mirrored adoption rates of mobile health apps today: 16 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, 12 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds, 7 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 5 percent of people 65-years-old and older.

Today, five years later, social media adoption is 42 percent among the 50-years-old and older population. It's 86 percent for adults 18- to 29-years old.

Nine percent of people with a mobile phone -- not necessarily a smartphone, any mobile phone -- have a mobile health app on their phone today. I'm happy to be the first to call that strong adoption for mobile health apps, and I'll be sure to check back in on the naysayers in a few years.