Can Mobile Apps Deliver on Their Promise?

An ER doctor stops at the scene of an auto accident, and one of the drivers appears to have sustained traumatic injuries. She takes out her smartphone and fires up the ultrasound app to assess the injured man while waiting for paramedics to arrive. Now fast forward as the driver recuperates at home from his injuries with strict discharge guidelines. He uses his tablet to download mobile health solutions in varying forms that allow him to record his progress and access education regarding his condition.

This is an example of how digital technology and mobile health (mHealth) solutions in particular are changing patient care practices and the way patients actively participate in their own healthcare experience.

In a press release about its recent regulatory action regarding mHealth, the FDA rallied behind the trend:

“Mobile apps have the potential to transform healthcare by allowing doctors to diagnose patients with potentially life-threatening conditions outside of traditional healthcare settings, help consumers manage their own health and wellness, and also gain access to useful information whenever and wherever they need it.”1

Consumers have long been on the mHealth bandwagon. Thousands of mHealth solutions have been produced to meet the demand. A recent study reported that “half of smartphone owners use their devices to get health information and one-fifth of smartphone owners have health apps.”2 While exercise, diet and weight apps are the most popular among consumers, trackers for medication adherence, blood pressure and other health apps are rising in popularity.2

Knowing When to Choose Digital

Medical marketers are always looking to identify the right opportunities for digital. Often, this takes foresight and planning—from asking the right questions in client meetings to determining which platform is most suited to the client’s goals and offers the strongest ROI.

“We always ask the question: When is digital right?” says Marc Sirockman, Executive VP of Artcraft Health. “The answer is simply whenever value can be enhanced. In our experience, a full strategy using both traditional and digital solutions can deliver the greatest reach and impact. And that’s where the savvy medical marketer comes in, by first understanding the brand’s goals and then applying the appropriate mix of digital and traditional solutions to meet the needs of the HCP and, most importantly, the patient. For example, we created a mobile device solution for direct use between pharma reps and physicians to help create print teaching materials on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Essentially, the rep can visit the physician’s office and partner with HCPs to design an in-the-moment, completely custom, print educational tool for their practice and ultimately the patient. This mHealth solution led to 2,000 orders within two months of release, which enabled sales reps to deliver those print materials, gaining repeat and welcome entry to physician offices.”

To illustrate this point, Artcraft Health Clinical Trials division provided a case study that incorporated traditional and mHealth solutions to help a client recruit and retain patients for its research study.

mHealth and Recruitment: A Case Study

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Background: The client’s objective was to recruit children between the ages of 6 and 11 with high blood pressure for a clinical trial involving an investigational drug for pediatric hypertension. A top consideration was that young children are challenging to find and recruit. Artcraft Health Clinical Trials locked in on creating an engaging way to appeal to families that would increase interest in joining the study. Artcraft had already created branding for the global trial, so the focus was now on helping to recruit children for the U.S. study.

Audience: Parents or other legal guardians and their children with high blood pressure who meet eligibility criteria.

Approach: Educate through engagement and interaction. An app could captivate and entertain both children and their guardians while they were waiting for their appointment with the pediatrician.

An mHealth solution could also be used for site investigators and coordinators who meet with families to educate them about the trial. Site staff typically presents a print resource guide explaining clinical trials in general, as well as content about the disease state and information about the specific study. A menu-driven digital solution with the same content, something more engaging and interactive that would enhance the educational experience, would meet the client’s objective and offer the potential to recruit faster.

After researching possible strategies, we proposed a dynamic solution that entailed apps that would live in “locked” tablets for use at selected sites:

  • “Waiting room” app for kids featuring a comic book-style format plus an interactive coloring book game and maze. To get to the games, users swipe through screens featuring our kid-friendly character to read simple educational concepts illustrated with straightforward medical art about high blood pressure and content introducing clinical trials.
  • “Investigator” app for site staff to share with families that explains the trial, high blood pressure and informed consent. This app also enabled families to use it on their own while visiting the site, and featured similar branded graphics and photos Artcraft Health had designed for additional tactics.

Challenges: Digital and mHealth solutions require unique planning—pre-production is key. In this case, every stage of the app’s development was planned and created by the Artcraft Health in-house team—from illustration and design to content and programming. Design and programming that worked together to ensure the app’s functionality allowed for multiple ways to navigate through the app’s content and games and back to the menu. Easy navigation is vital to the best learning experience.

Results:

  • 100% of sites using the tablet were top producers within the scope of the individual trial.
  • Sites using the tablet were given back the “gift of time.” The portability and dynamic features of the tablets independently educated and engaged children and their families, leading to higher comprehension and, ultimately, recruitment.
  • Dropout rates were significantly reduced through the ongoing interaction and education the tablet apps provided.

mHealth Lessons Learned

Knowing whether digital—mHealth in particular—may be the preferred vehicle for patient education, HCP marketing or a key tactic in recruitment and retention support requires a clear understanding of the objectives, audience and value potential:

  • Do your homework: Ask the right questions, and know the company’s strategic imperatives.
  • Research patient demographics and know your audience.
  • Coordinate HCP and client goals through market research and evaluation.
  • Importantly, understand the challenge, anticipate the need and know that mHealth, when used in the right format and at the right time, can show a significant ROI.

In the proper circumstances, such as with the Artcraft case study, digital can lead to an expedited, measurable, uniquely qualitative assessment of any marketing initiative, and provide a dynamic patient education experience that is completely custom, interactive and engaging. That kind of return is invaluable.

References:

1. “FDA issues final guidance on mobile medical apps [news release].” Silver Spring, MD: U.S. Food and Drug Administration; September 23, 2013. http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm369431.htm. Accessed January 27, 2014.

2. Fox, Susan and Duggan, Maeve. “Mobile Health 2012.” PEW Internet and American Life Project. Published November 8, 2012. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Mobile-Health.aspx. Accessed January 27, 2014.

  • Lisa Moss Calderwood

    Lisa Moss Calderwood is a Senior Medical Writer for Artcraft Health. She has over 25 years in the industry including Senior Writer and Digital Media Producer, VP Communications for the National League for Nursing, and a partner with Euro-Pacific Productions.

    • Lynn Altmaier

      Lynn Altmaier is the Director Content Services for Artcraft Health. She has been active in clinical care and patient education for more than 20 years. Her background in healthcare and passion for empowering patients is grounded in her experience as a registered nurse and master of science in health psychology.

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