Current Use of Mobile Health Apps in the United States Federal Government

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Posted on March 13, 2018


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The result of these managerial and political developments is a set of currently 33 mobile apps promoted on the Department of Health and Human Services’ mobile website, an overview of all apps is available (see Appendix for DHHS). The apps were developed and promoted by 12 different agencies that are part of DHHS. Among them are, for example, the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, the CDC, National Cancer Institute, NIH, National Library of Medicine, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

All apps are either replicating information that is already available on the agency’s website or provide access to a searchable database of symptoms, diseases, or health-related alerts. The content supports the mission of government organizations, most agencies have to inform and educate the public by providing neutral, reliable, and trustworthy information. Similar to previous phases of e-Government development, mobile apps in public health agencies are still at an early maturity level and focus mostly on representing already existing agency content, delivered through an innovative platform.

There are nine apps that go beyond a mere information and education function, and focus on supporting behavioral change, such as the National Institute of Cancer QuitPal app or the WordWeather app from the National Cancer Institute that help smokers quit their habits. The apps provide health-related information, but also interactive elements, such as calendar functions with reminders, financial goals, or behavior tracking functionalities. There are two of those apps that are targeting a specific audience, and are using gaming technologies. These apps focus on younger patients, such as teenagers, and are designed to offer “a better option for idle hands”. As an example, the NIH’s Brrd Brawl App banks on the popularity of the mobile phone app Angry Birds, and tries to attract younger demographics to help defend against what the app calls “cold turkeys” to protect the farms against invading penguins to stay in a “never-ending survival mode”.

An app focuses on higher levels of e-government, and provides information about direct transactions with government agencies. The Open Payments Mobile for Industry app of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is designed to help manufacturers keep track of, store, and view financial payments of industry partners. However, the app does not allow for actual mobile payment transactions.

The analysis of the existing government-owned and -promoted mobile health apps shows a surprising trend toward simple provision of government-vetted information. Apps with higher levels of interactions are rare. There are very few opportunities for citizens to directly interact with the content, to track individual health-related behavior, or for bidirectional exchanges with other patients, supporters, or health care professionals. The guiding research question is therefore, what are the drivers, and most importantly, the barriers for the development and adoption of health-related mobile apps in government, and what are the adoption pathways federal agencies follow?

Using an Interpretative Approach

Much of the nature of the research question of intraorganizational institutional factors leading to the development and ultimately the implementation of ios app reviews in government is qualitative in nature. It requires narratives to explain the internal decision making processes, the problems public managers encounter when they start to review interactions of patients—and regular citizens—through their personal data in combination with government data. It is therefore necessary to use an interpretative approach to gain a deeper understanding of each individual agency’s context in which it is operating, as well as their specific situations and specialized internal data. The cumulative insights from a variety of agencies facing the same problems as agencies working with health-related personal data help to open the black box of internal managerial decision making.

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