18 April 2013
There is increasing interest from academics and clinicians in harnessing smartphone applications (apps) as a means of delivering behavioral interventions for health. Despite the growing availability of a range of health-related apps on the market, academic research on the development and evaluation of such apps is in the relatively early stages. A few existing studies have explored the views of various populations on using mobile phones for health-related issues and some studies are beginning to report user feedback on specific apps. However, there remains little in depth research on users’ (and potential users’) experiences and views on a wide range of features and technologies that apps are, or will soon be, capable of. In particular, research on young adults is lacking, which is an unfortunate omission considering that this group comprises of a good number of mobile technology adoptors.
The current study sought to explore young adults’ perspectives on apps related to health behavior change. It sought their experiences and views of features that might support health behavior change and issues that contribute to interest in and willingness to use such apps.
Four focus groups were conducted with 19 students and staff at a University in the United Kingdom. Participants included 13 females and 6 males with a mean age of 23.79 (SD 7.89). The focus group discussions centred on participants’ experiences of using smartphone apps to support a healthy lifestyle, and their interest in and feelings about features and capabilities of such apps. The focus groups were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using inductive thematic analysis.
Study findings suggested that young, currently healthy adults have some interest in apps that attempt to support health-related behavior change. Accuracy and legitimacy, security, effort required, and immediate effects on mood emerged as important influences on app usage. The ability to record and track behavior and goals and the ability to acquire advice and information “on the go” were valued. Context-sensing capabilities and social media features tended to be considered unnecessary and off-putting.
This study provided insight into the opportunities and challenges involved in delivering health-related behavioral interventions through smartphone apps. The findings suggested a number of valued features and characteristics that app developers may wish to consider when creating health behavior apps. Findings also highlighted several major challenges that appeared to need further consideration and research to ensure the development of effective and well-accepted behavior change apps.