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J Med Internet Res. 2018 Jun 11;20(6):e10141. doi: 10.2196/10141.

Discovery of and Interest in Health Apps Among Those With Mental Health Needs: Survey and Focus Group Study.

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Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, Department of Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, United States.



A large number of health apps are available directly to consumers through app marketplaces. Little information is known, however, about how consumers search for these apps and which factors influence their uptake, adoption, and long-term use.


The aim of this study was to understand what people look for when they search for health apps and the aspects and features of those apps that consumers find appealing.


Participants were recruited from Northwestern University's Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies' research registry of individuals with mental health needs. Most participants (n=811) completed a survey asking about their use and interest in health and mental health apps. Local participants were also invited to participate in focus groups. A total of 7 focus groups were conducted with 30 participants that collected more detailed information about their use and interest in health and mental health apps.


Survey participants commonly found health apps through social media (45.1%, 366/811), personal searches (42.7%, 346/811), or word of mouth (36.9%, 299/811), as opposed to professional sources such as medical providers (24.6%, 200/811). From the focus groups, common themes related to uptake and use of health apps included the importance of personal use before adoption, specific features that users found desirable, and trusted sources either developing or promoting the apps.


As the number of mental health and health apps continue to increase, it is imperative to better understand the factors that impact people's adoption and use of such technologies. Our findings indicated that a number of factors-ease of use, aesthetics, and individual experience-drove adoption and use and highlighted areas of focus for app developers and disseminators.


consumer preference; focus groups; mHealth; mental health; mobile apps

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