To App Or Not To App? That Is The Question

Physicians and other health care professionals are adopting mobile eHealth technology at an accelerating rate.

According to a 2009 report from Manhattan Research, the percentage of physicians using smart phones in the U.S. increased to 64 percent in one year. While the size of the group increased by 20 percent between 2008 and 2009, the number of physicians using iPhones, Androids, and other smartphones doubled.

"Mobile is delivering on its promise to allow doctors to be 'always on' -- which is partly why so many doctors say the Internet is essential to their practice," said Monique Levy, senior director of research at Manhattan Research.

We know that Physicians and other HCP's are using their smartphones to access critical medical information, resources and tools at or near the point of patient care. Given that pharmaceutical brands have an ongoing vested interest in reaching, educating and partnering with HCP's, what strategies and tactics can pharma brands use today to message to doctors on the mobile platform?



It appears pharmaceutical companies are approaching this in two ways.

On the one hand, pharma brands are partnering with established companies such as Skyscape, Epocrates and others who have built extensive mobile medical education platforms attracting millions of health care professionals who access these mobile reference libraries and tools on a daily basis. You can think of these as uber-medical apps -- multi-functional, clinically relevant resources to aid HCP's in their patient care decisions.

On the other hand and primarily due to the success of the Apple App Store, we've seen the rise of high-quality freestanding Medical Apps, such as the AFib Educator App produced by Sanofi Aventis. Pharma brands, health care publishers and independent developers are busily producing these apps in the hopes of driving downloads to generate revenue, educate or to promote their brands.

But just as in the early days of the Web, when little thought was given to what happens after the big, flashy corporate Web site is built, I predict many of these companies will not achieve measurable results from their foray into app development.

This is discussed in a recent piece headlined, "App store or app sore?"

"Apple has an app store, of course. So does Microsoft. Google has two, one for Android and now one for Wave. In fact, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't have an app store these days. We're swimming in app stores. Or drowning. It strikes me that app stores, like the cloud, are simply a way to dress up old ideas."

Apple has over 185,000 apps in its App Store. That's an enormous amount to sift through, including about 5,300 "medical" and "healthcare and fitness" apps.

So if you are a pharmaceutical brand and you want to increase awareness among your target audience of, say, cardiologists regarding a specific cardiovascular condition, is developing a free-standing app the best strategy for leveraging this growing medium?

What are the chances that your targeted group of cardiologists will take the time to search through the app store and locate your one app?

Similarly, even if you did succeed in generating a couple of thousand downloads, who actually made them? Were they practicing cardiologists or students or patients? Were they even in the U.S.? It's impossible to know.

This mobile healthcare technology sector will continue to develop rapidly but it's clear that pharma and other health care brands will need to take a flexible, multi-variable approach to achieving success in the mobile medical world.

2 comments about "To App Or Not To App? That Is The Question".
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  1. Ted Smith from HealthCentral, April 9, 2010 at 3:25 p.m.

    Robert - great overview of the situation. I've been waiting to see a good example of cross-media support for Apps. There are examples of "download our widget" in print but I think serious apps that improve care, need to have some more aircover than I've seen anyone push for yet.

  2. Laurie Gelb from Profit by Change, April 9, 2010 at 4:10 p.m.

    As always, tools that integrate into the point of care or information-seeking and help drive better outcomes build the corporate and/or product brand. If not...

    But yes, they have to find you first. So your advisors, the .com, physician portals, exhibit booths, journal ads, etc. still have to support your other initiatives -- or a content hub. An App store is never going to be that hub.

    Done correctly, the brand-building/support process helps identify what a killer app would be for your audience/dz state. Then you can develop a budget/timeline and decide if it's worth it. Of course, even a killer app will need reputable on and off line resources to endorse it.

    But one thing is sure: if you re-purpose mud, it will still be mud.

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