Healthcare app icon
October 8, 2018

Navigating the Apple and Google app stores in search of a fun app to pass the time can be confusing. Now imagine betting your health on your ability to find just the right download.

A team of UMD researchers is developing a new mobile app to help people without regular access to health care cut through the thousands of fitness, nutrition, brain health and other offerings by providing a sort of one-stop wellness shop.

They’re tailoring it for African-American and Spanish-speaking users of smartphones, who will be able to set personal goals, enter personal and family health histories and access a variety of evidence-based information on disease prevention and health promotion. The project is supported by a new four-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine.

“Increasing amounts of health information and services are online, and many people have only a mobile phone, not a desktop or laptop computer,” said Cynthia Baur, an endowed professor and director of the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy who’s overseeing development of the app. “Designing a smartphone app for multiple health topics, instead of one for a specialized purpose, allows the app to be more relevant and useful in everyday life.”

Dr. Baur is a recognized leader in developing easy to use tools for health promotion including CDC’s health literacy website, which provides resources and online training to improve health literacy and public health and the CDC Clear Communication Index, a set of scientific criteria for creating clear public communication materials. Her approach is based in communication science and focuses on providing diverse audiences with information in ways they can understand and use.

The intended users frequently lack convenient access to doctors or hospitals, and only a handful of Spanish-language health promotion apps now exist. Researchers hope the app empowers these vulnerable populations make the best health decisions.

The multidisciplinary team working on the free app also includes Professor Robert S. Gold (Behavioral and Community Health), Assistant Professor Neil Sehgal (Health Services Administration), Devlon Jackson (Center for Health Equity), and Xin He (Epidemiology and Biostatistics) in the School of Public Health, as well as Assistant Professor John Dickerson (CMNS, Department of Computer Science). They will work with a community design team and conduct a yearlong field test with the people who will be its end users.

“We're working with community partners to include user feedback throughout,” Baur said. “we're using health literacy principles to make the app, navigation and content easy to understand and use.”


October is Health Literacy Month. The Horowitz Center for Health Literacy is one of the sponsors of the Health Literacy in Action Conference on Oct 25-26 at UMD. Click here for more information or to register.

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Cynthia Baur