Patients, Not Users: Humanizing The Mobile Health Movement

As mobile technology and healthcare continue to evolve, people are increasingly turning to the devices in their pocket to provide everything from calorie counting to glucose monitoring. According to Digitas’ mBook Report, 90% of patients say they would use an app “prescribed” by their doctor (even though only 66% would fill a medical prescription), and a report by Grand View Research, Inc. says the global market for Mobile Healthcare (mHealth) applications is projected to exceed $42 billion by 2020.

Despite our willingness to engage with mHealth apps, there is a huge gap between desired use and meaningful use of the technology. App developers need to understand that what makes a good mHealth app is not so different from what makes a good doctor. 

MHealth apps are ushering in a new era of “DIY healthcare.” Patients love them because they are free or low-cost alternatives to an expensive system. Healthcare professionals, in turn, eagerly anticipate the rise of mHealth apps as a means of delivering more patient-centered, value-based healthcare.



Even with advocates on both ends and impressive projections, the mHealth marketplace has been slow to realize its potential. The mHealth Developer Economics Report says that of the 100,000+ mHealth apps currently on the market, 68% made less than $10,000 in 2014 and 82% have fewer than 50,000 downloads. Among those who downloaded an app, 76% churn within one month of installation, according to recent data we collected.

So how do mHealth app developers find and retain the highly engaged, highly profitable mobile customers that stand between them and that $42B opportunity?

They connect with them the same way a good doctor connects with a patient: by 1) creating an environment of trust and 2) delivering effective, personalized treatment.

There can be no meaningful engagement without trust. The individuals who find value in mHealth apps and make them an active part of their daily routine are those who feel comfortable sharing personal health data with the app — their caloric intake, activity levels, sleep patterns, etc. Only once the app has access to this data can it hope to provide insights of any value to an individual or a physician.

At present, few patients feel comfortable sharing their most private data with a piece of technology, and among those who do, only 40% proceed to share that data with their physicians, according to HIMSS Report. For some patients, the barrier to trust is the security of their personal information, especially in light of recent, highly publicized breaches. Others simply need a clear demonstration of value before they add your app to their long list of their daily digital interactions. Either way, it’s on you, the developer, to convince your customers that their inherently sensitive data is in good hands and will be put to good use. This means being respectful in how you ask and transparent about what it will be used for, just like a good doctor would.

Personalization is the price of entry. A good doctor also knows that effective treatment requires more than just data; it has to be personalized to the unique needs and desires of the patient. The best way to do this is to interact with patients in-app. This could be through triggered prompts, 1:1 in-app conversations, surveys, etc. We analyzed over a million mHealth app sessions, and found that apps that invest the resources to engage and humanize their customers see retention rates twice as high as those that do not, reducing customer churn from 60% after one week to 30%.

Every interaction is an opportunity to create a more personalized experience, both medically and from a user-experience perspective. Increased in-app interaction was directly linked to patients being more comfortable sharing data and more satisfied with their experience. You can equate this to the difference between a doctor who spends time with a patient, asking questions and listening to the answers and a doctor who simply glances at your chart and writes a prescription. 

MHealth apps have a huge role to play in tomorrow’s healthcare landscape. While there will be many different success stories, you can bet that trust and personalization will be as much a part of those narratives as functionality. The developers who capitalize will be the ones who build for patients, not users.

2 comments about "Patients, Not Users: Humanizing The Mobile Health Movement".
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  1. Robi Ganguly from Apptentive, June 3, 2015 at 6:52 p.m.

    Hi Paula, thanks for the comment and sharing your thoughts. You're right, security and privacy are large concerns. Companies who take them seriously and listen to their customers, enabling a dialog around these issues as we move forward, will clearly do the best job and be the most trustworthy. 

  2. Fiona Smythe from mscripts, June 4, 2015 at 11:31 a.m.

    Hi Robi -

    Interesting article and perspective.  We've found (I work in mHealth) that there are other ways to get and retain users, namely through providing a convenient, non-intrusive service - in our case refilling and managing medications on your phone. We have very low churn, because the service only messages you when you have an active script. However, I think you're right on track about the value of increasing personalization to help patients with other aspects of their healthcare, and think we'll see increasing investment in this area. I look forward to seeing how this develops!

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