“Mobile health = Hype”

World of DTC Marketing Mobile Health equals Hype

For me this article by Richard Meyer a “Direct to Consumer eMarketing person” who blogs at WorldofDTCMarketing.com, highlights the confusion that arises when we think mHealth is all about apps that need to be downloaded to smartphones:

What makes anyone think that patients are going to download apps to help them manage their health when it comes to Rx drugs ? Is it agency people that are trying to sell you to get into mobile health or is it the belief that patients are actually going to use these apps?

A survey of 1,500 health apps found that one in five claimed to cure or treat a medical problem. A Washington Post article on the survey conducting by members of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University who studied the mobile health apps, highlighted some of the more egregious examples and there are a lot of them.

Propaganda and non-truths abound all around the Internet saying that mobile health apps are everything from a way to help patients take better care of themselves to improving patient compliance and adherence. This maybe true in the future but not now.

Think of mobile health apps as that time of year when everyone promises to loose weight and get more exercise. That lasts less than 30 days and if you go to any garage sale the chances are good that you’ll find a treadmill of weights that aren’t used anymore.

The reality is that mobile health is going to be an integrated part of consumer healthcare in the future but a lot of ground work still has to be done. Pharma companies don’t understand things like consumer centric and usability and until they do health apps by pharma and med device companies are going to look good on paper and in Power Point presentations but have very low usage among patients

Not happening? In the rest of the world it’s hard to find patients or carers who don’t use native apps to manage their health

Obviously in markets like Japan 80%+ of senior citizens use mobile data services and M2M devices like the fitbit don’t stand a chance as even the Raku Raku phones have been running native pedometer apps (since 2008). But I wonder if the USA is really that different to the rest of the world or if it’s the age/profile of the population that Richard is familiar with (and maybe he would do well to look at the way the carers of these patients are using their mobiles – it’s rare to find a carer who isn’t at least using SMS to coordinate their work).

A Doctor colleague who works in the UK discovered in 2010 that all of her patients who take a contraceptive pill use a alarm app on their mobile to set a reminder to take their pill and that the vast majority set an appointment time/date on the native calendar app that features on 99% of the mobiles retailed in the UK. Could the USA really be that different today for patients or is this an age/profile anomaly?

Jumping the gun

I do agree with Richard that pharma brands building mHealth apps for smartphones might be jumping the gun a bit when there are so many more basic opportunities being ignored eg. mobile optimised websites, on-box information (eg. text your email to this shortcode to get sent an informational video), mobile medical education, etc.

Yes it would be cheaper to get a mobile consultant in to work with you on developing a proper company wide mobile strategy but when you’re just a marketing manager in a big pharma firm who has been given 3 months to create and execute a marketing plan this type of activity is way above your station and in reality picking up an award for a glossy iPhone App (even one that will never be used by a single patient!) can seem a much safer career move…

About David Doherty

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