Mobile health apps don’t always follow conventional wisdom

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Propaganda and non-truths abound all around the Internet saying that mobile health apps are everything from a threat to Big Pharma to a way to save billions of dollars in healthcare costs. There may be a future for mobile apps but a lot of work is yet to be done.


Last year I led some market research into mobile apps across all demographic segments and several disease conditions. While we did uncover some opportunities for mobile health we also learned that patients are very finicky about what they want in health apps and even more finicky about being reminded of their health conditions.


We found, for example, that type 1 diabetics are open to mobile apps that help them better manage their diabetes. This was especially true for caregivers of type 1 diabetics but when it came to apps to help type 2 diabetics manage their health there was a lot of pushback such as “I don’t want to be reminded that I have diabetes” and “I don’t want to have to consult my phone to choose what to eat from the menu.”


In younger demographics we found that people were more likely to download health apps that helped them make healthier choices in their lifestyles. However the key for these people, since they are tech savvy, is to ensure that the health apps are up to date and provide real value as they define value.

Now what about apps that remind patients to stay compliant with medications? Wrong answer. The last thing patients wanted was their smartphones buzzing with a reminder to take their medication because they found it intrusive and they also had privacy issues with it.


In my opinion, the future of mobile health is not via smartphone but in devices that patients can use at home to monitor everything from blood pressure to their heart. Patients would use these devices at home and then the devices would wirelessly send the data to either their PC for collection or to their doctor. Physicians would then be able to communicate with patients about the results via email or in person.


Does this mean that there isn’t a market for mobile health apps? No, not at all. What it means is that if pharma wants to get serious about mobile health they are going to have to integrate the level of expertise needed to ensure these apps are user friendly and have utility for their target audience not to mention the back end analytics to measure the impact and keep the apps up to date.

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