Can Health Apps Really Change Our Breast Health Behavior?


How many apps have you used today? For many of us it’s like second nature now. Pulling up an app to do things as simple as checking for the nearest coffee shop, playing some tetris, updating our Facebook status, or even the weather for the week. Some go as far as helping us schedule appointments, log our calories for the day, keep ourselves accountable to our fitness routine, find healthy recipes or even find a date! According to Nielsen, over 67% of us now own smartphones and download about 40 apps to do various things with throughout the day. It seems like they can do it all, but can an app really help us change our behavior? Smartphones are where many young people do their communicating these days. In fact, people between the ages of 18 and 24 spend the most time on apps, over 37 hours per month, and where they are is where we want to be, educating them on ways to prevent breast cancer and know their bodies. That’s why we launched the #CHECKYOURSELFIE campaign this October and released an updated version of our Check Yourself! app in four languages. We stand by breast self-checks being beneficial to breast health and with 40% of breast cancer cases being detected by self-diagnosis, we created the Check Yourself! App to help everyone remember how and when to check their boobies. But is it effective? Are any health apps effective?

According to the FDA, an estimated 500 million global smartphone users will use a health care app by 2015.

Although the information seeking and care exists for mobile breast cancer communication, there has been little research done on breast health behavior and mobile apps. In fact, there is little research on the positive or negative effect of health apps on people’s routine at all. So when grad student, Emery Rogers  from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Health Communicatins, wanted to do a study to figure out why people download health apps and if they actually help change their routine or behavior, we were all ears. They were interested in our outreach to young people & contacted Shaney Jo to do the study on our Check Yourself App! They chose to interview volunteers from our social media network that were over 18 and that had downloaded the app.

The common reasons for not checking our boobies were found to be lack of time, knowledge and just plain forgetting. The Check Yourself App! is designed to help all of things by setting a reminder and giving a simple step-by-step guide to a breast self-check. Although a small pool of participants, the in-depth interviews are a great starting point to knowing what people want in an app to help them actually alter their routines for better health.

The study focused on three questions and now we know a little bit more than we did before.

What factors do smartphone users take into consideration when selecting and downloading a health app?

The three categories that influenced downloading general health apps were reviews and ratings; convenience and efficiency; and personal relevance. Reviews in the app store were important to all participants and the “star” rating system proved to be a trusted source when deciding to download. Just the rating, not necessarily customer comments. The convenience of the app makes an app a prefered choice over searching their phone’s web browser. Their phone is always with them and an app is just a more efficient and easier way to find information tailored to their needs. They also trusted apps more than just searching online based on them being focused on a particular health topic. It made them feel more confident that they were getting the best information from a community of people that think the way they do and care about the same issues.

What factors did smartphone users take into consideration when they selected and downloaded the Keep A Breast App?

The three key factors when downloading the app were trust in the organization; perceived relevance; and convenience. Trust in Keep A Breast seemed to be the main factor in selecting the particular app. A majority of the participants said they were not seeking an app for a breast self-check, but that trust compelled them to download the app. Moreover, they appreciated that KAB as an organization focused solely on addressing one health issue, increasing legitimacy. Relevance to their lives was also key, many that had already been diagnosed with breast cancer, or knew someone who had, were motivated to download the app and continue their routine with the helpful monthly reminder, as well as encourage other people in their lives to do the same. Once again, convenience was the overall key in downloading the app in general. Participants stated that they were already using their smartphones for the things that are most important to them, and that the app made a self-check more convenient since the reminder and instructions were coming from a platform that they already use regularly.

How do smartphone users perceive and use the Keep A Breast app, and how has it affected their health behavior?

Three themes were consistent when asked how users perceive the KAB app and it’s affect on health behavior: Ease of use and simplicity; Increased consistency and improved technique of breast self-check; and Social sharing. Many participants expressed that their regular use of the app was due to its simplicity. It’s ease of use, the vivid colors, the layout, and the simple navigation. Overall, participants indicated that the Check Yourself! App caused them to be more diligent and consistent with their breast self-check. Once they were reminded, participants felt like the “Learn How” section of the app made them better and more thorough at the self-check. They felt more confident that they were giving attention to the right areas. The social sharing aspect of the app made them feel like it was easier to discuss self-checks with others. They like to show people their apps and spread the word and having it easily accessible on their smartphone made that easy.

Mobile and tablet apps are the way of the future and we want a future without breast cancer.

Have any health apps helped change your routines? Do you have any others to recommend? Let us know in the comments! 

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