New book summarizes state of eHealth applications

UNC’s Seth Noar examines intersection of technology and health

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, health information is one of the most important subjects that Internet users look for online.  Sixty-six percent of Internet users look online for information about a specific disease or medical problem.  Seventeen percent of cell phone users have used their phone to look up health or medical information and nine percent have software applications (or “apps”) on their phone to help them track or manage their health.  

It’s no surprise, then, that there is increasing interest from health care providers and public health experts in using the Internet and mobile applications to deliver information about an individual’s health or interventions to encourage healthy living and behavior change.  At the same time, there has not been a great deal of evidence about the efficacy of these “eHealth Applications” for encouraging behavior change. The evidence that does exist has not been synthesized together in a manner that is easily accessible to researchers, practitioners, and students.

UNC’s Seth Noar, PhD, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center has edited a book with the University of Kentucky’s Nancy Grant Harrington, PhD, that provides an overview of the current evidence base for eHealth applications and their use.  eHealth Applications:  Promising Strategies for Behavior Change (Routledge, 2012) provides historical background on eHealth in the era of web 2.0, covering important topics such as interactivity, virtual interventions, the use of avatars and digital games, and Internet and computer-tailored interventions. In addition to several other applications chapters, the volume also covers such topics as social media, implementation and dissemination, and the relevance of policy in this area.

“There is a rapidly emerging interdisciplinary field focused on the use of Internet and mobile technologies for health promotion and disease prevention – that field is eHealth,” says Noar. “However, we need to distinguish the evidence base from applications that are developed with little forethought and hastily put out there in the marketplace.”

More than 7800 Health and Fitness apps are currently available on iTunes, underscoring the rapid growth of electronic media in the delivery of health information and behavior change interventions.

Noar adds, “What we attempt to do in the book is bring together the evidence base for a broad range of applications, written by experts in these areas. We also discuss the trajectory of this field in terms of where it emerged from and in what directions it is likely headed.”

In addition to the hardback and paperback editions traditionally available for academic books, Noar and Harrington’s work is also available as an ebook from Amazon.com.