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Data Collection Mechanisms in Health and Wellness Apps: Review and Analysis

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journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2022, 00:00 authored by Ben PhilipBen Philip, Mohamed AbdelrazekMohamed Abdelrazek, Alessio Bonti, Scott BarnettScott Barnett, John Grundy
Background: There has been a steady rise in the availability of health wearables and built-in smartphone sensors that can be used to collect health data reliably and conveniently from end users. Given the feature overlaps and user tendency to use several apps, these are important factors impacting user experience. However, there is limited work on analyzing the data collection aspect of mobile health (mHealth) apps.

Objective: This study aims to analyze what data mHealth apps across different categories usually collect from end users and how these data are collected. This information is important to guide the development of a common data model from current widely adopted apps. This will also inform what built-in sensors and wearables, a comprehensive mHealth platform should support.

Methods: In our empirical investigation of mHealth apps, we identified app categories listed in a curated mHealth app library, which was then used to explore the Google Play Store for health and medical apps that were then filtered using our selection criteria. We downloaded these apps from a mirror site hosting Android apps and analyzed them using a script that we developed around the popular AndroGuard tool. We analyzed the use of Bluetooth peripherals and built-in sensors to understand how a given app collects health data.

Results: We retrieved 3251 apps meeting our criteria, and our analysis showed that 10.74% (349/3251) of these apps requested Bluetooth access. We found that 50.9% (259/509) of the Bluetooth service universally unique identifiers to be known in these apps, with the remainder being vendor specific. The most common health-related Bluetooth Low Energy services using known universally unique identifiers were Heart Rate, Glucose, and Body Composition. App permissions showed the most used device module or sensor to be the camera (669/3251, 20.57%), closely followed by location (598/3251, 18.39%), with the highest occurrence in the staying healthy app category.

Conclusions: We found that not many health apps used built-in sensors or peripherals for collecting health data. The small number of the apps using Bluetooth, with an even smaller number of apps using standard Bluetooth Low Energy services, indicates a wider use of proprietary algorithms and custom services, which restrict the device use. The use of standard profiles could open this ecosystem further and could provide end users more options for apps. The relatively small proportion of apps using built-in sensors along with a high reliance on manual data entry suggests the need for more research into using sensors for data collection in health and fitness apps, which may be more desirable and improve end user experience.

History

Journal

JMIR mHealth and uHealth

Volume

10

Issue

3

Article number

30468

Pagination

1 - 13

Publisher

JMIR Publications

Location

Toronto, Ont.

ISSN

2291-5222

eISSN

2291-5222

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal