Young Woman Excersising with Phone

While always in a state of transformation, the evolution of the health space today is accelerating at a rapid pace, and technology is playing an increasingly vital role in this development. Specifically, improvements in sensor technology have led to “a boom in the popularity of health monitoring and tracking devices.” According to ABI Research (2012), nearly 30 million wearable wireless mobile health devices were shipped in 2012, a 37 percent growth from 2011. Currently, ABI predicts an annual average growth rate of just under 40 percent, which will lead to 160 million devices shipped in 2017. Furthermore, Parks Associates estimates that about 15 million U.S. consumers actively tracked personal health and fitness online or via mobile in 2011 – a number that will more than double by 2016. These trends are further underpinned by the idea of the Quantified Self; the belief that collecting and analyzing personal data on a daily basis helps people improve their lives. This is where theories of behavior change are significant to discuss.

According to Parks Associates, recent theories in behavioral change emphasize engagement, “providing timely, positive feedback loops to reinforce good behavioral changes in the individual.” Given the proven economic advantages of preventative care and living healthy lifestyles, the healthcare industry is currently “moving to test such theories in the market.” In general, the quantified self approach tends to attract tech junkies, fitness “freaks,” and people already suffering certain conditions so severe that they need to watch their personal data closely (diabetes is a good example). In fact, 29 percent of mobile phone users with one or more health problems feel that “an easy-to-use device that tracks their condition and progress would motivate them to better track or manage their health.” In order to engage mainstream consumers, who are key to sustainable business models, self-tracking tasks must be “interesting, engaging, and rewarding.”

However, while app developers have responded with a multitude of wellness and fitness apps for smartphones, sustaining use continues to be an ongoing issue. In a space meant to promote long-term health, number of downloads is not a good indicator of the number of actual users. Even then, app usage on average tends to peak within 15 days of download. In order to ensure consistent and sustained use, app developers have worked to “simplify use, add social features and reminders, integrate with other apps, and offer incentives” such as extra points for continued use or rewards for hitting milestones.

This offering of incentives is a gamification-type approach that in general is an attempt to infuse fun into an activity. Specifically, gamification entails “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts,” focusing on using computerized, competitive elements in a situation where the user does not choose to play a game. The concept of using competition to change behavior isn’t new, going as far back as the early Soviet era where both the US and the USSR employed competition to increase production. Regardless, perhaps the only aspect more incentivizing than competition is rewards.

A study conducted at UC Berkeley (2012) evaluated the effect of Kiip rewards on app user engagement. Kiip, the company that pioneered rewards into mobile apps and games, initially grew with a games-based network, but has since expanded to more than 600 apps that include games, fitness apps, utility apps, and more. Specifically, the study captures an interesting dynamic that shows “how a rewards value proposition can be an effective user motivator,” creating interactions that help apps become a part of people’s everyday lives. Results found that users who redeem rewards spend 225 percent more time in apps than users who do not. Furthermore, brands themselves are seeing phenomenal engagement rates that exceed 40 percent, more than ten times the industry average.

The biggest challenges lie not in collecting and transmitting the data, but in building the back-end systems that can make sense of it. Dr. David Delaney, chief medical officer for SAP HealthCare predicts that players who can figure out how to apply real-time analytics and prediction to the streams of information being generated by mobile devices in health care will have a huge competitive advantage. “They will be the people who not only survive, but thrive.” Ultimately, it is important here to note how big data and analytics in the health care space has huge potential to create disruption within the health care industry.


ABI Research. (December, 2012). Sports and Wellness Drive mhealth Device Shipments to Nearly 30 Million in 2012. Retrieved May 29th, 2014, from ABI Research.

Broockman, D. (November, 2012). Study Shows Kiip Rewards Significantly Boost User Engagement in Mobile Fitness Apps. Retrieved May 29th, 2014, from Business Wire.

Empson, R. (January, 2013). The Ultimate Guide to the 50+ Hottest Health and Fitness Apps, Gadgets, and Startups of the Year. Retrieved May 29th, 2014, from TechCrunch.

Hulsebosch, M. (2013). Targeting Gamification Applications to Increase User Participation. Retrieved May 29th, 2014, from University of Twente.

Wang, H. (October, 2012). In Search of the Killer Fitness App Business Model. Retrieved May 29th, 2014, from Parks Associates.

Williams, P. (February, 2013). Data Science Trends For 2013. Retrieved May 29th, 2014, from Dataversity.

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