Mobile health apps to facilitate self-care: a qualitative study of user experiences
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Objective: Consumers are living longer, creating more pressure on the health system and increasing their requirement for self-care of chronic conditions. Despite rapidly-increasing numbers of mobile health applications (‘apps’) for consumers’ self-care, there is a paucity of research into consumer engagement with electronic self-monitoring. This paper presents a qualitative exploration of how health consumers use apps for health monitoring, their perceived benefits from use of health apps, and suggestions for improvement of health apps. Materials and Methods: ‘Health app’ was defined as any commercially-available health or fitness app with capacity for self-monitoring. English-speaking consumers aged 18 years and older using any health app for self-monitoring were recruited for interview from the metropolitan area of Perth, Australia. The semi-structured interview guide comprised questions based on the Technology Acceptance Model, Health Information Technology Acceptance Model, and the Mobile Application Rating Scale, and is the only study to do so. These models also facilitated deductive thematic analysis of interview transcripts. Implicit and explicit responses not aligned to these models were analyzed inductively.Results: Twenty-two consumers (15 female, seven male) participated, 13 of whom were aged 26–35 years. Eighteen participants reported on apps used on iPhones. Apps were used to monitor diabetes, asthma, depression, celiac disease, blood pressure, chronic migraine, pain management, menstrual cycle irregularity, and fitness. Most were used approximately weekly for several minutes per session, and prior to meeting initial milestones, with significantly decreased usage thereafter. Deductive and inductive thematic analysis reduced the data to four dominant themes: engagement in use of the app; technical functionality of the app; ease of use and design features; and management of consumers’ data. Conclusions: The semi-structured interviews provided insight into usage, benefits and challenges of health monitoring using apps. Understanding the range of consumer experiences and expectations can inform design of health apps to encourage persistence in self-monitoring.
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