What are health and wellness apps?

Health and wellness apps are mobile application programs that offer health-related services on smartphones, tablet PCs and other communication devices. There are many types of health and wellness apps focusing on various aspects of promoting digital health.

The most popular categories of health and wellness apps include:

  • Sports and fitness activity tracking
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Weight loss coaching
  • Pharmacy
  • Sleep cycle analysis
  • Stress reduction and relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Medical advice and patient community
  • Menstrual period tracking
  • Pregnancy
  • Hospital selection and appointment management

health and wellness apps nuviun

Note that the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) distinguishes between general health and wellness apps that promote awareness, and wellness from other mobile medical applications that focus on diagnosis and treatment of diseases.

The FDA has authority to regulate mobile medical applications, but the line that distinguishes health and wellness apps from medical apps is slightly blurred.

According to the FDA:

“Mobile apps are software programs that run on smartphones and other mobile communication devices. They can also be accessories that attach to a smartphone or other mobile communication device, or a combination of accessories and software. Mobile medical apps are medical devices that are mobile apps, meet the definition of a medical device and are an accessory to a regulated medical device or transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device.”

The FDA doesn’t regulate all mobile apps, and makes that determination based on the following:

“The FDA is taking a tailored, risk-based approach that focuses on the small subset of mobile apps that meet the regulatory definition of ‘device’ and that are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device, or transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device. Mobile apps span a wide range of health functions. While many mobile apps carry minimal risk, those that can pose a greater risk to patients will require FDA review.”

For example, an app that records how many miles an individual runs is a health and wellness app. But if the same app claims to track exercise to help address obesity, then it can be linked to a disease state and transforms into a medical app – which may then be regulated by the FDA.

How are health and wellness apps used in the digital health industry?

Health and wellness apps vary a great deal, and are often used interchangeably with the term, mHealth apps. Each is designed with specific target users in mind - such as clinicians, consumers, and healthcare organizations.

Some apps serve more than one use, as when a patient with cardiac disease obtains activity information and sends it to his cardiologist for analysis and treatment recommendations. 

As medical devices merge with communication devices and app-makers innovate, the types of available mHealth apps will continue to expand. For now, the most popular and recognized mHealth apps are categorized according to the purpose that each type serves:

Clinical and/or Diagnostic Assistance

Remote Patient Monitoring

  • ECG viewer
  • Heart monitoring
  • Oxygen level monitoring
  • Telehealth services
  • Vital signs monitoring

health and wellness apps alerts nuviunHealth-Related Alerts and Reminders

  • Prescription management
  • Medication adherence
  • Appointment reminders
  • Menstrual period tracking

Medical Reference

  • Medical E&M (Evaluation and Management) coding
  • Specialized medical reference
  • ICD-9/10 reference

Health and Wellness Promoting

  • health and wellness devices nuviunExercise and fitness
  • Sleep quality tracking
  • Pregnancy and fetal development
  • Healthy eating
  • Diet assistance
  • Weight loss assistance
  • Health-related data tracking
  • Psychiatric/behavioural modification assistance
  • Chronic care management (such as asthma, diabetes, etc.)
  • Smoking cessation and alcoholism treatment
  • Relaxation
  • Meditation


  • Hospital selection
  • Surgery scheduling
  • Remote dictation
  • Interoffice communication

Current Market and Industry Trends for Health and Wellness Apps

The ever-present smartphone has spawned a massive market for mobile health and wellness apps. Healthcare-related mobile apps are becoming popular at an astonishing speed, as indicated by the fact that 69% of U.S. smartphone owners track at least one health indicator using them.

According to industry estimates, 500 million smartphone users worldwide will be using a healthcare application by 2015, and by 2018, 50 percent of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users will have downloaded mobile health and wellness apps.

Since the GCC currently has the highest number of apps users among high-use countries, the adoption of mobile health and wellness apps in this region is forecast to outpace the rest of the world.  

By the end of 2013, more than 97,000 health and wellness apps were available for download with 42% of them adhering to a paid business model.

The top categories of mHealth apps as defined by downloads completed are:

  • Weight loss (50 million)
  • Exercise (26.5 million)
  • Women’s health (10.5 million)
  • Sleep & meditation (8 million)
  • Pregnancy (7.5 million)
  • Tools & instruments (6 million)
  • Others (18 million)

The mHealth apps market was valued at $6.6 billion in 2013 and is expected to touch $20.7 billion by 2018 at a CAGR of 25.5%.

The health and wellness apps market is quickly moving from novelty to mainstream.

Since the focus is now shifting from generating data to demonstrating clinical efficacy, the mHealth market will move further toward an integration with healthcare systems and the providers within them.  

As the mHealth app industry continues to grow, the outcomes will be healthier consumers who are more empowered in their care – and healthcare providers who appreciate the efficiencies these health and wellness apps have to offer.

External Resources

  1. FDA on Mobile Medical Applications
  2. National Library of Medicine’s gallery of mobile apps
  3. UCSF’s iOS mobile health apps database
  4. UCSF’s Android mobile health apps database
  5. iMedicalApps – Review of medical and healthcare apps
  6. TopOrthoApps – Mobile app reviews for orthopaedic surgeons
  7. University of California, Riverside’s database of wellness apps
  8. AISLE7 – Mobile health and wellness app marketing solutions provider
  9. HHS’s mobile health apps
  10. Top free health and wellness apps for Android phones on Google Play
  11. Top health and fitness apps for iOS devices
  12. MobiHealthNews – Online news, commentary and research on mobile health
  13. mHealthEvidence – Reference site for scientific proof on mHealth
  14. Fiercemobilehealth.com
  15. mhealthnews.com

Internal Resources

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Want to learn more about the digital health industry? Use the nuviun digital health landscape diagram to explore the sub-specialties in detail.