Why the Future of Digital Health Must Be Simple

Jack Murtha
OCTOBER 18, 2018
mhealth pharma,mhealth development,digital health initiative,hca news

What healthcare leader — or follower, for that matter — hasn’t considered launching a mobile health (mHealth) app? This sort of digital health tool cuts across all healthcare boundaries, enchanting pharma, health systems, insurers and vendors who are striving for greater patient engagement. “If you build it, they will come” — right?

Wrong. Dead wrong, actually.

The truth is, most mHealth apps fall to the basement of the app stores, collecting cobwebs while patients miss out on a potentially meaningful solution and healthcare stakeholders burn money on failed digital health initiatives.

>> READ: Is Digital Health the Future of Healthcare?

Just take a look at the numbers presented today by Michael C. Song, Ph.D., a device research and development senior manager for AstraZeneca’s MedImmune, at Digital Pharma East in Philadelphia: There are 325,000 health and fitness apps on the market, but just 41 boast more than 10 million downloads on Google Play. Eighty-five percent have fewer than 5,000 downloads, and 50 percent of mHealth apps never break the 500-download mark. The final blow: Most mHealth apps see a usage drop-off rate of 64 percent after a single month.

“So, those are not terribly good stats,” Song said. In fact, they are terribly bad stats.

Song, however, offered a simple solution to the mHealth problem. Creating a successful app is all about taking a holistic approach, focusing on the right engagement, the right value and the right userbase.

“We have a lot of tools and devices and gadgets that we can use to capture patient information, but we have to be careful about that because we can easily overload the patient,” he said. “It doesn’t help us if we’re overwhelming the patient.”

The best tools to use: smartphones and smartwatches. They come with built-in sensors — the typical smart phone has about eight — which are critical for recording health data. Wearables, specifically, offer streamlined paths to medical and biometric information.

But it doesn’t end there. Given the depressing mHealth drop-off rate, healthcare leaders must take lessons from commercial apps, notably video games, to tailor their apps to their target demographics. That’s what’s so appealing about smartphones: 58 percent of people check their mobile at least once per hour, a rate that is higher for young people.

“We need to develop apps that are engaging and have perceived value,” Song said.

In other words, mHealth apps should be one reason why a patient is checking their phone.

Therapeutic areas, patient social information, motivators and other information should all inform the app development process. Developers must consider social psychology — and not simply settle for catchall apps. It’s crucial to recognize patient disease states and what other co-morbidities they might be dealing with, as that could affect how they use apps and which ones they choose to download.

Each patient’s journey is unique, and each mHealth initiative must recognize that, Song noted.

Going forward, digital connectivity will be all about simplicity, interconnectedness, integration and building a seamless user experience, he said.

“In terms of the future, we do see it as very bright. We’re at the very beginning of it, and we do see a lot more opportunities to engage the patient.”

But health systems, pharma companies, payers and everyone else can engage the patient only if their mHealth apps meet patients where they are, in simple, convenient ways.

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