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Sexual health apps fail to attract smartphone users

HIV and STD apps not fulfilling their potential to assist with prevention and care

HIV and Your Heart iPhone app
HIV and Your Heart - the highest rated app featured in the study

Smartphone apps that assist with the prevention and care of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are not living up to their potential, according to a new study.

US researchers say that although mobile apps should provide a strong platform for providing tailed assistance, those currently available for HIV and STDs have so far failed to catch on.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Internet Research they cite low average download numbers (median 100-500 downloads) and low user ratings, typically 3.7 out of 5 stars.

The study was authored by researchers from the University of North Carolina'sDepartment of Medicine and the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research at Duke University.

Commenting on their findings they said: “Providing HIV/STD prevention and care services through mobile phone apps shows great potential for growth, both in improving the acceptability and adoption of existing apps, and creating new HIV/STD apps.

“Future HIV/STD app development could be informed by the principles of social marketing to build appropriately tailored, interactive apps.

They searched the Apple iTunes and Android Google Play stores in May 2012 for HIV/STD-related apps, excluding apps that exclusively targeted industry, providers, and researchers.

They identified 1,937 apps, 55 of which met the inclusion criteria of fostering HIV/STD prevention and care services (12 for Android, 29 for iPhone, and 14 for both platforms).

Among these, 71 per cent provided disease information about HIV/STDs, 36 per cent provided HIV/STD testing information or resources, 29 per cent included information about condom use or assistance locating condoms, and 24 per cent promoted safer sex. 

But only six apps (11 per cent) covered all four of these prevention areas. Eight apps (15 per cent) provided tools or resources specifically for HIV/STD positive persons. Ten apps included information for a range of sexual orientations, nine apps appeared to be designed for racially/ethnically diverse audiences, and 15 apps featured interactive components. 

The highest user-rated app was HIV and Your Heart, which was co-developed by the American Heart Association and the American Academy of HIV Medicine, and received financial backing from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

It includes videos of providers, experts, and HIV-positive persons and provides information about HIV and heart health, smoking cessation, diet and exercise, and a wellness checklist for tracking nine health measures, including viral load and CD4 cell counts.

The next highest rated app was iStayHealthy, which was developed by a UK telecoms manager.

The app provides a wide range of features, including a way to record missed medication doses, a medication reminder alarm and a photo library of HIV medication pill images that can be tailored to a daily medication schedule.

“As biomedical advances in antiretroviral treatment are bringing the prevention of onward HIV transmission within our reach, we can use the powerful, widespread technologies offered through mobile phone apps to explore behavioural interventions for risk reduction and close gaps in HIV/STD testing, treatment adherence, and retention in care,” the researchers concluded.

7th January 2013

From: Marketing, Healthcare



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