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Health-apps: a valid method of treatment.

At the beginning of 2014, VGZ launched the Mindfulness app. The free Mindfulness coach helps users to cope with stress, becoming more self-aware and thus ‘mindful’. That the app turned out to be a great success is evident from the results. The app has been downloaded over 680,000 times, used by 50,000 people monthly and has an average rating of +4 stars in the Apple App Store and Google Playstore. The effectiveness of healthcare apps - and thus of the VGZ Mindfulness app - has now scientifically been proven.

Arnold A.P. van Emmerik and Jaap Lancee (professors at the Amsterdam University) have conduct research in collaboration with Fieke Bering (formerly Consultant at VGZ) into the effectiveness of healthcare apps.

There are over 300,000 healthcare apps available in the two largest app stores: Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Many of these apps promise to help users with specific aches, pains and even their overall health. But do they really? This question led Van Emmerik and Lancee to a scientific study into the effectiveness of healthcare apps. Using the VGZ Mindfulness app, they examined the extent to which apps can realize direct and long-term improvements within the following four topics:

  1. Mindfulness;
  2. Quality of life;
  3. General psychiatric symptoms (This may sound more heavy than it actually is. Everyone feels sad or anxious sometimes, which is covered by this topic);
  4. Self-actualization (The realization of your own talents).

Research

191 Subjects were asked to download the VGZ Mindfulness app, which offers 40 mindfulness exercises and background information without any form of therapeutic support or feedback to the user. Subjects were encouraged to opt for the five-week program in which they received a reminder every week in order to stimulate the use.

The first topic - Mindfulness - was measured among the subjects using the FFMQ model (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire). In this questionnaire, subjects need to answer 39 questions on the basis of a five-point scale (from 'never' to 'always'). The questions represent five important facets of mindfulness:

  • Observing: the ability to perceive internal and external stimuli;
  • Describing: to describe your own experiences;
  • Consciously acting: to pay attention to the activity that one is busy with at the moment.
  • Non-judgment: accepting experiences in a non-judgmental way. So no attempt is made to avoid or change experiences;
  • Non-reactive: the ability to let experiences come and go, without getting entangled.

Users can score from 39 to 195 points (39 times 5). In a similar way, the other topics of the study were measured: quality of life, general psychiatric symptoms and self-actualization.

The outcome

The results of the research turned out to be surprisingly positive and demonstrate the effectiveness of apps within healthcare. After an eight-week period, the individual topics of the study appeared to have improved significantly among the subjects who used the VGZ Mindfulness app.

A significant increase in all five facets of mindfulness was observed. The subjects were found to show less psychiatric symptoms and they scored even higher on the quality of life component. The improvements even continued for a period of at least three months.

Based on the above results, Van Emmerik and Lancee concluded that it is possible to achieve sustainable positive effects with the help of a mobile app and the VGZ Mindfulness coach in specific.

Prevention is better than cure

We are happy to see that we have been able to contribute to an effective tool that allows users to deal with stress. Under the guise of 'prevention is better than cure' we are happy to advise everyone to use the free VGZ Mindfulness coach. Finally, we want to thank Van Emmerik, Lancee and Berings for their contribution to the research.

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