The ‘wide world of apps’ has been whole-heartedly embraced by the pharmaceutical industry. There are good apps for healthcare consumers, and there are bad apps, and then there are an exorbitant number of apps that serve no purpose whatsoever because no one is downloading them. From a regulatory perspective, apps are a safe marketing tool for engaging with patient populations. However, there are well over 100,000 healthcare related apps and just 12 percent of healthcare apps account for the vast majority of downloads1.
Type 2 diabetes is a good, illustrative example of this digital inefficiency. According to the CDC, there are 30.3 million Americans with some form of diabetes making it the fifth most common chronic disease2,3. There are approximately 1,200 diabetes focused apps available in Apple’s App Store that aid consumers in the tracking of blood sugar and A1C levels as well as monitoring carb and calorie intake4. How does a doctor, patient, caregiver or any interested party weed through 1,200 apps to find the tools needed to effectively manage through the daily diabetes grind of monitoring, tracking, and maintaining motivation?
As a health and life sciences marketers we should all know what makes an app good and useful versus what makes one useless and derivative. A great patient focused, healthcare app takes into account the following items:
Value to User
What benefit does the app provide to the patient or caregiver? Generally, an effective app can’t be just a tool to promote a pharmaceutical product. It also can’t be a marketing “check-box item” driven by a corporate edict that requires any new product launch or indication to have an app associated with it.
Creating an app that provides value to the user begins with understanding the end-to-end customer experience for the patient and their journey with the product, disease and therapy regimen. This step is vital to the development of an effective app. The insights into motivating factors and barriers to be overcome will support the creation of an app that ultimately has value to the user.
AbbVie’s LupronDepot app for “The Man Plan,” was designed to meet specific patient needs identified through a detailed patient journey map. LupronDepot, which in this case treats advanced prostate cancer, is known to have weakened muscles as a significant side effect. This side effect was identified as an area where an app would provide benefit and value to the patient by helping patients with a muscle-building exercise plan. It incorporates other useful resources like personalized calls, progress tracker, virtual communities and caregiver support. The end result is an app that addresses the major issues that are frequently encountered with advanced prostate cancer. The easy-to-use, engaging, and value-driven design filled a gap in the app market (there weren’t 1,200 other apps attempting to accomplish the same goal) and addressed unmet patient needs.
Ease of Use
Keeping an app engaging enough to inspire continued use and simple enough for the average user is a delicate balancing act for business leaders and app developers. If the business or marketing leader identifies the patient journey properly and creates value for the user by addressing their specific need, then creating a simple and effective app is a great deal easier by virtue of having a clear objective. Apps “should be clean, minimalistic, uncluttered, and have ‘a light touch.’ Too often they are heavy, clunky and overly complicated for the task due to trying to please too many different target personas,”5. Usability should be one of the main elements to consider when developing an app.
Enablement and Engagement through Data
To move beyond a simple symptom tracking app, chemoWave, a disease companion app released in 2017, uses specific patient reported data to create personalized insights and intervention opportunities. The data captured includes, “activities that may be affecting their overall condition, such as water consumption, exercise, medication, and entertainment,”6 which enables the patients to reduce discomfort and improve health as well as share an interactive log of their overall condition with caregivers. By engaging via self-monitoring, patients receive a “huge boost in confidence and understanding to stay strong during the fight, and offers doctors the most comprehensive cancer tool needed for collaborative care.”6 Additionally, data from disease companion apps can be aggregated to improve the app, patient services and can provide foundational data for artificial intelligence initiatives.
Patient and caregiver apps are core components of marketing life sciences products and done well can be highly effective tools to improve patient health. On the other hand, ill-conceived and poorly designed apps will spend their functional lifetime languishing in the app store wasteland. Remember useful apps deliver value and are simple to use, and they enable and engage the patient in achieving improved health outcomes.
As marketing teams evaluate the need for apps, shouldn’t the first question be… “Do our patients really need an app for that?”