Do Your Employees Really Need a Smart Phone Health App?

I need a health app, so said a client.

Why? I asked.

Some employees are asking for them, the client said.

Mobile health applications are the new sexy. Their explosion is fueled, of course, by the growth in smart phones overall; the interest in their use as a health tool driven by the knowledge that they facilitate health engagement. Does that make health apps the place to put your limited benefits communication budget?

The Pew Internet & American’ Life Project’s Mobile Health 2010 study found that 9 percent of cell phone users have downloaded a health app onto their phone (any phone, not just a smart phone). By and large, this 9 percent is younger, African American, and has some college education. They’re also English language speakers and live in an urban setting.

Nine percent isn’t small potatoes, as Brian Dolan at MobiHealthNews writes, but it’s not massive, either. And, depending on your workforce demographics, not too many of that 9 percent may work for your company.

This doesn’t mean health apps should be ignored. You should find ways to incorporate them into your communication strategy. For example:

  • Seek health partners who offer them.
  • Review health apps in your print or online vehicles.
  • Invite employees to act as citizen journalists and research and write about their favorites.
  • Buy health apps for employees to test.

By doing any of this, you’d get a sense of how your workforce responds to and uses health apps, making you smarter by the time adoption rates are higher and greater evidence of their effectiveness is available.

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What I wouldn’t do is make them the first place to spend your hard-fought HR communication dollar.

Instead, put that money toward getting your benefits information on the Internet, adapting your most sought-after information for mobile access, and exploring ways to make your information social. While health apps are beguiling, resist their sirens’ call a little longer and get the basics in place.

PS: You might also be interested in the rise of apps culture from the Pew Research Center.

This was originally published on Fran Melmed’s Free-Range Communication blog.