Rise In Mobile Users Searching Health Info
More people than ever are using their cell phones to get health information. The share of mobile users doing so has gone up to nearly a third (31%) from 17% two years ago, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.
Smartphones are driving most of that activity. More than half (52%) of smartphone owners are looking up health information on their devices, compared to just 6% of regular cell phone users. Younger, better-educated adults, minorities and caregivers are also more likely to use their phones to get health information.
M-health has long been seen as an area of opportunity for health providers, pharmaceutical companies and other industry marketers. A GSMA forecast estimated the mobile health market would grow to $23 billion by 2017 across mobile operators, device vendors, health providers and publishers.
The Pew report identified certain demographic groups as heavier mobile health users: African-Americans, college graduates, women, those with an annual household income between $50,000 and $74,999, and those between 30-49.
Pew estimates that 84% of smartphone owners have downloaded an app of any kind. But only 19% have downloaded an app specifically to track or manage health. Women, those under age 50, the better-educated, and those with an annual household income over $75,000 are more likely to have downloaded a health app.
Given increased public awareness about tracking of app use by developers and third parties, it’s possible privacy concerns play a role in holding back downloading of health-related apps. A separate Pew report released in September found privacy considerations are leading most app users (57%) either to remove particular apps, or to decide against installing them.
Exercise, diet and weight apps are the most popular types of health apps. Some 38% use an app to help track their exercise regimen, 31% monitor their diet, and 12% use an app to manage their weight. Other health apps track blood pressure, pregnancy, blood sugar or diabetes, and medication. The WebMD app was cited by 4% of survey participants.
The latest study also showed few mobile users are texting for health-related reasons. While an estimated 80% of cell owners send and receive text messages, only 9% get any text updates about health or medical issues. Women, and those between the ages of 30-64, are more likely than other cell phone owners to have signed up for health text alerts.
People potentially dealing with more serious health situations — caregivers, those living with chronic conditions, and people with recent significant health changes — are more likely to get text alerts.
The Pew findings are based on a national survey of 3,014 U.S. adults fielded between August and September. The survey involved a mixed landline/cell phone sample and interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.