The buzz around social media marketing is starting to fade as more and more marketers question the value of social media in driving brand objectives. However, some people are suggesting that there are a lot of opportunities around mobile marketing, especially with health apps. But is this really true and should DTC marketers devote scarce resources to the development of health apps?

While people continue to use their mobile phones to help them manage their lives, according to Pew Internet research, “Half of adult cell phone owners have apps on their phones, but just 46% of downloaders have paid for an app, and . . . among adults with apps on their phones, only about two-thirds (68%) reported actually using them.” In addition, among adults, health apps are the least downloaded.

Earlier this year, I had a chance to lead some research with consumers to find out exactly what they thought of health applications for mobile devices. The research was designed to understand the barriers to health application adaptation, and in this case we meant applications that helped patients manage their health.

What we heard was that the utility of health applications varied widely by health condition. Some people, like Type 1 diabetics, welcomed apps that could help them better manage their health, especially if they were connected to medical devices like glucose monitors. Patients with other types of health conditions, however, did “not want to be reminded” that they had problems that needed continuous monitoring.

The biggest issue regarding health applications is their utility and use. The key finding was that health apps could be beneficial if the target audience finds them useful enough to have the time to learn them and they don’t require input every day. The bottom line of our research is that most people said: “I just don’t have the time to learn something new unless it really benefits me.”

So how can DTC marketers leverage mobile applications? First, they have to hire an agency that understands not only the technological aspects of mobile applications, but also the aspects of a mobile health application that are likely to engage consumers. This means that they have to do some research with their target audience and incorporate findings into the development of the application.

Second, DTC marketers have to somehow define the ROI of health applications. It can cost a lot of money to develop a health app, and right now those dollars are hard to find in shrinking DTC budgets. It might be beneficial, for example, to test whether health apps increase compliance and adherence. We also have to remember that there are now multiple platforms for mobile, including Android, iOS and Windows Mobile. This means that you may need to develop multiple apps for multiple platforms.

The other challenge for pharma regarding mobile apps is FDA approval. According to USA Today, “Last year, the FDA began to lay down the law. The agency released a first draft of guidelines that require mobile apps developers making medical claims to apply for FDA approval for those applications, the same way that new medical devices must be proved safe and effective before they can be sold. But that process can be both time-consuming and expensive.” Most pharma companies don’t have the organizational structure to develop and get approval for health apps.

Health applications are part of an integrated approach to health management, and DTC marketers need to be aware that the future is coming at them at light speed. Development of health applications is more than technology; it’s also understanding what consumers find valuable. Email your question to Richard Meyer, our DTC expert, for the answer.DTC marketers have to somehow define the ROI of health applications. It can cost a lot of money to develop a health app and right now those dollars are hard to find in shrinking DTC budgets.

  • Richard Meyer

    Richard Meyer has worked in healthcare marketing for more than 12 years and is the author of www.worldof dtcmarketing.com and www.newmediaand marketing.com. He is the Director of Online Strategic Solutions.

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