Health and Wellness Apps in Asia

Health and wellness apps are not new in Asia. However, these apps have grown tremendously in popularity, especially in the last few months when COVID-19 has gotten many of us to be more conscious about health and wellness than ever before.

High smartphone penetration, coupled with an upsurge in government initiatives in the mobile health (mHealth) technology sector, has led to the rapid growth of the Asia Pacific (APAC) mHealth market. It is estimated that by 2026, the APAC mHealth market will surpass a valuation of US $99.4 billion. The COVID-19 outbreak has further accelerated this growth, as consumers seek out alternative methods for health monitoring and consultation in an attempt to avoid visits to hospitals and clinics. This has resulted in an increase in the usage of health and wellness apps across the region.

In light of this trend, GMO Research conducted a survey on the adoption and usage of health and wellness apps in five different countries across Asia: Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The survey also cast a spotlight on COVID-19 apps, providing an in-depth perspective on differing consumer attitudes towards these apps across the different markets in Asia. This article highlights key trends and behavioural patterns in different parts of Asia to give you an insight into consumer preferences in this diverse region.

Health and Wellness Apps in AsiaAccording to the survey, 100% of respondents in Malaysia say they are using some kind of health and wellness app, the highest proportion out of the countries surveyed. This is followed by Korea, at 68.3%, and Thailand, at 66.8%. The lowest usage rate is reported in Japan, where only 30.2% say they are using one or more health and wellness apps.

So what are some of the most popular health and wellness apps in the region?

Health and Wellness Apps in AsiaAsia is a diverse region and so it is no surprise that consumer trends differ widely when it comes to the usage of health and wellness apps. Sport and fitness activity tracking apps have proven to be widely popular across the region, coming out on top in Thailand (55.4%) and Korea (53%). In Malaysia, COVID-19-related apps are immensely popular, with close to 8 in 10 respondents saying that this is their most used category. COVID-19 apps are also hot favourites among the Japanese (35.5%), outperforming all other categories. For consumers in Indonesia, diet and nutrition apps have emerged on top, with 36.5% reporting that this is their most frequently used category.

Since the onset of COVID-19, the pandemic has claimed lives and countries have scrambled to cope; many have adopted technologies in their frantic efforts to flatten the curve. One of the most common tools implemented has been the COVID-19 mobile app.

Singapore was one of the first countries to launch such an app. Called TraceTogether, the mHealth app aims to minimise the spread of COVID-19 through community-driven contact tracing. In April 2020, Malaysia developed and launched the MySejahtera app, aimed at helping the government to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, and at the same time enabling users to monitor their health during the pandemic. By August 2020, the app had been downloaded by 13.3 million users. Soon after, many countries – including Korea and Indonesia – followed suit. Each country has its own unique app with a different focus functionality. Key objectives of these apps include contact tracing, symptom monitoring, quarantine enforcement, and information sharing.

Among the respondents who did not download a COVID-19 app, the top reason given for not doing so was the possible misuse of personal information. This is consistent with ongoing debates all over the world regarding personal data privacy concerns associated with the use of COVID-19 apps. During a virus outbreak, many people are hungry for information on case numbers and hot zones, but few are willing to share their own health data.

Health and Wellness Apps in AsiaAccording to the survey, as many as 51% of respondents in Indonesia who had not downloaded any COVID-19 apps said they were concerned about the misuse of personal information, signalling a certain level of distrust in the government. As a matter of fact, contact tracers in Indonesia often encounter threats and assaults in the course of their work. This has greatly dampened efforts to contain the pandemic.

As shown by the survey, COVID-19 has indeed boosted the usage of health and wellness apps among consumers in Asia. When respondents were asked which apps they had been using more since the onset of the pandemic, COVID-19-related apps were reported to be the category that has seen the largest increase in usage in Japan, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In Korea and Thailand, however, sport and fitness activity tracking apps have seen the largest increase in usage.

As sports and COVID-19 apps gain popularity across the region and continue to grow in terms of user base, let’s not forget that there are other categories that perhaps have yet to be discovered, and as such, hold much potential. Take for example medical advice and patient community apps. With the exception of Thailand, this category has consistently ranked in the bottom three across the countries surveyed. This might be an opportunity for medical practitioners to look into digital alternatives for their services, if they have not already done so.

Also worth mentioning are the menstrual cycle tracking apps which are widely used among female consumers in Asia. In fact, according to the GMO survey, menstrual tracking apps are used by more than half of the female respondents in Korea.

2020 is drawing to a close, and as we welcome the ‘new normal’ in 2021, health and wellness will continue to remain at the top of our minds. Without a doubt, the burgeoning mHealth market in Asia will continue to flourish as consumers become more health conscious and continue to seek alternative, non-contact methods for maintaining health and wellness.