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Healthcare Apps: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

It is hard to imagine a week going by without hearing about a new app in the healthcare industry. It makes sense, though. As mobile devices become more sophisticated and better protected (was anyone else’s mind blown when Apple launched fingerprint technology?), consumers feel safer using them for important activities and sharing private information. The impact of apps in healthcare seems largely positive and they should only become more important as technology and regulations continue to evolve, but plenty of skepticism still remains.

First, a few quick facts to define the landscape:

To summarize, consumers continue to perform more activities on mobile devices than ever before, a very small portion of available health-related apps are downloaded, and the majority of apps are used only once.

There is a clear issue with getting consumers to actually use apps. After all the time, money, and energy spent building an app, marketing it, and finally earning a download only to find that consumers never come back is frustrating. These stats are even more depressing when there are so many valuable apps currently available and in development. Companies are spending big bucks to develop apps that may change healthcare forever.

Today alone, there are two featured stories on about exciting new apps. One monitors respiration real-time while the other coaches kids to help them lose weight. This is not an unusual day. Apps with concepts like this are announced and released all the time. There are even companies like Zoom+ that are trying to bring healthcare almost entirely to the mobile phone. (Keyword being “almost.” It’s tough to imagine a phone performing an appendectomy.)

So the future for healthcare apps is simultaneously extremely bright and somewhat murky. The technology and abilities are mind blowing, yet adoption and use remain a challenge. Intelligent text messaging is a key to increasing adoption and getting consumers to complete the activities an app requires to remain valuable to them.

Here is an example:

There are a variety of apps that help consumers manage their health, be it overall fitness, diabetes, medication adherence, or any number of other health issues. Many of these apps require data from consumers in order to be effective. This data typically comes either from wearables that sync with the app, consumer-input data, or a combination of both. When consumers download the app, they typically log in, provide basic info, and then start looking around at all the features and overall experience. All is going fine and well until the consumer encounters something that requires a second effort on their end. Providing their current weight requires them to go step on scale and return; a prompt to sync a wearable could send them into an online shopping environment loaded with distractions. And then they lose momentum, interest wains, and they never return.

The challenge with apps is they require the consumer to click on them, and in healthcare likely log in, every time they use them. This is an unavoidable barrier unless security and regulations change dramatically. So how do organizations get consumers to care enough to log into an app regularly?

Here are some ideas:

  • Push Notifications: When a user enters an app for the first time, ask them to turn on push notifications. This enables the app to send alerts or reminders to the user on their mobile device. Downside: Many users (roughly 60%) do not opt-in to push notifications.
  • Digital Marketing: Once a consumer downloads the app, targeted online marketing can remind them about the necessity of the app. Downside: Expensive with limited data to judge success.
  • Text Messages: An intelligently-timed text message can encourage consumers to take the action the app requires (like measuring weight) and log back in with a simple tap of the link. Now the app has the information it needs to be more valuable to the consumer which is likely to increase adoption. If not, another intelligent text should do the trick. Example Text: Joanna, don’t forget to take your blood pressure and post it link to app so we can keep your doctor up to date.

Seeing the level of innovation in mobile healthcare is completely thrilling. It really feels like the dawn of a new era. Making sure consumers do their part and experience this innovation through apps requires an extra step to keep them engaged. By leveraging push notifications, ongoing marketing, and text message workflows, organizations are likely to see much stronger app use numbers and generate better outcomes across the board.

mPulse Mobile is the industry leader in a variety of healthcare solutions to support over 200 use cases. Driving traffic to apps is one of them. mPulse also creates intelligent workflows for two-way interactive text messaging that engages patients and consumers to get the information and care they need.


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