mHealth Apps: Propaganda and non-Truths

Richard Meyer, Director of Online Strategic Solutions and former eMarketing Manager/Consultant to Medtronic/Eli Lilly, weighs in with an article over at DTC Marketing discounting mHealth apps:

Here we go again. Just when I thought everyone had a great handle on mobile health apps more 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 maybe a future for mobile apps but a lot of work is yet to be done

Never mind questioning if there maybe a future or not why not look back at the Nokia Decade and appreciate how a single mobile app (the Camera) has already transformed the pharma sales channel. When did you last go to a high street pharmacy to pick up some film, get some processing done or pick up your holiday snaps?

For the record: Mobile, the cannibal of cannibals, was a big threat to Pharma 10 years ago.

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

Shelve the research for a moment and check out what’s happening in the real world. Reading about the record adoption rate of Kaiser Permanente’s mHealth services is a good starting point.

We found, for example, that type 1 diabetics are open to mobile apps that help them better manager 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”

I think it’s important to note that no one is saying mHealth is easy or that behaviour change is a walk in the park. It’s probably even harder than creating new drugs (but we won’t go into that one).

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

Wait until you see what happens when the quality control is taken over by their clinicians and the patients can use these apps with their clinicians. I’d recommend the work of Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist Dr Roy Harper in Belfast or the team at WellDoc Inc for those interested in this area.

Now what about apps that remind patients to stay compliant with medications ? Buzzz, sorry, 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

Intrusive? Privacy Issues? Really? Where’s Richard living? Young people I see today have mobiles constantly vibrating or beeping. Most women on the pill in our clinics have been using their mobile phone calendar as a reminder alarm for years. Are these patients Richard’s observing not already using SMS, BBM or Facebook updates? How would anyone know THIS buzz was a med reminder and not another all important SMS confirming their social importance eg. inviting them to some cool VIP party?

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

While I think the big opportunity will always be in feature phones (today’s smartphone is tomorrows feature phone) there is so much wrong with this paragraph that I double checked the date of the article: 14 May 2012.

Apple iPhone and iPad customers are regularly complaing about the need to use a PC with their mobile devices and the vast majority of those online are using cloud based email (eg. gmail/yahoo/hotmail) so I can’t imagine why any patients want their health data sent to “their PC for collection”.

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

I think this highlights a common misconception I’ve noticed in the pharma marketing industry. Impact for pharma still unfortunately equates to sales and while you’ve got to add value there’s a big leap from this to becoming a care provider that the patient trusts.

For more on my thoughts on the mHealth opportunity for Pharma check out the slidedeck from my “Clear simple steps for patient support and engagement” talk from the recent Mobile Strategies for Pharma conference organised by EyeforPharma in Barcelona.

About David Doherty
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