Human-to-Computer Interactivity Features Incorporated Into Behavioral Health mHealth Apps: Systematic Search

Ann Futterman Collier, Shelby Hagemann, Susan Brown Trinidad, Morgan Vigil-Hayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: While there are thousands of behavioral health apps available to consumers, users often quickly discontinue their use, which limits their therapeutic value. By varying the types and number of ways that users can interact with behavioral health mobile health apps, developers may be able to support greater therapeutic engagement and increase app stickiness. Objective: The main objective of this analysis was to systematically characterize the types of user interactions that are available in behavioral health apps and then examine if greater interactivity was associated with greater user satisfaction, as measured by app metrics. Methods: Using a modified PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis) methodology, we searched several different app clearinghouse websites and identified 76 behavioral health apps that included some type of interactivity. We then filtered the results to ensure we were examining behavioral health apps and further refined our search to include apps that identified one or more of the following terms: peer or therapist forum, discussion, feedback, professional, licensed, buddy, friend, artificial intelligence, chatbot, counselor, therapist, provider, mentor, bot, coach, message, comment, chat room, community, games, care team, connect, share, and support in the app descriptions. In the final group of 34 apps, we examined the presence of 6 types of human-machine interactivities: human-to-human with peers, human-to-human with providers, human-to–artificial intelligence, human-to-algorithms, human-to-data, and novel interactive smartphone modalities. We also downloaded information on app user ratings and visibility, as well as reviewed other key app features. Results: We found that on average, the 34 apps reviewed included 2.53 (SD 1.05; range 1-5) features of interactivity. The most common types of interactivities were human-to-data (n=34, 100%), followed by human-to-algorithm (n=15, 44.2%). The least common type of interactivity was human–artificial intelligence (n=7, 20.5%). There were no significant associations between the total number of app interactivity features and user ratings or app visibility. We found that a full range of therapeutic interactivity features were not used in behavioral health apps. Conclusions: Ideally, app developers would do well to include more interactivity features in behavioral health apps in order to fully use the capabilities of smartphone technologies and increase app stickiness. Theoretically, increased user engagement would occur by using multiple types of user interactivity, thereby maximizing the benefits that a person would receive when using a mobile health app.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere44926
JournalJMIR Formative Research
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • app
  • behavioral app
  • behavioral health
  • consumers
  • engagement
  • health application
  • interactivity
  • mHealth
  • stickiness
  • support
  • therapeutic
  • user engagement
  • users

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Informatics


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