Digital Disease Management Tools Aren’t Too Popular

Posted on April 19, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Despite having a couple of chronic illnesses, I don’t use disease management tools and apps, even though I’m about as digital health-friendly as anyone you can imagine. So I guess the results of the new survey, suggesting that I’m not alone, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The study was conducted by HealthMine, which recently surveyed 500 insured consumers to find out whether they used digital health devices and apps. Researchers found that while 59% of respondents suffer from chronic conditions, only 7% of these individuals used a disease management tool.

This was the case despite the fact that 50% reported using fitness/activity trackers or apps, and that 52% of respondents were enrolled in a wellness program. Not only that, two thirds of those involved in a wellness program said their program offered incentives for using digital health tools.

Disease management tools may not be in wide use, but that doesn’t mean that the consumers weren’t prepared to give digital health a try. When they drilled down further, HealthMine researchers learned that in addition to the half of respondents that used fitness trackers, consumers were interested in a wide variety of digital health options. For example, 46% used food/nutrition apps, 39% used weight loss apps, 38% used wearable activity tracker apps, 30% used heart rate apps, 28% used pharmacy apps, and 22% used patient portals or sleep apps.

To get consumers interested in disease management tools, it might help to know what motivates them to pick up any digital health app for their use. The biggest motivators cited were desire to know their numbers (42%), followed by improving their health (26%), the knowledge that someone on the other side of the app is tracking results (19%), and incentives for using the app (10%). (It’s worth noting that while incentives weren’t the biggest motivator to use digital health tools, 91% of respondents said that incentives would motivate them to use digital health tools more often.)

All that being said, I think I know what’s wrong here. In my experience, the apps consumers reported using are directed at helping consumers handle problems which, though complex, can be addressed in part by measuring a few key indicators. For example, achieving fitness is a broad and multifactorial goal, but counting steps is simple to do and simple to grasp. Or take food/dieting apps: eating properly can be a life’s work, but drawing on a database to dig out carb counts isn’t such a big deal.

On the other hand, managing a chronic illness may call for data capture, interaction with existing databases, monitoring by a skilled outside party and expert guidance. Pulling all of these together into a usable experience that consumers find helpful — much less one that actually transforms their health — is far more difficult than, say, tracking calories in and calories burned.

I’d argue that truly effective disease management tools, which consumers would truly find useful, calls for institutional commitment by vendors or providers that neither is ready to supply. But if disease management tools came with a particularly intuitive interface, a link to live providers and perhaps more importantly, education as to why the items being tracked matter, we might get somewhere.