Mobile Apps Take Priority in Pharma mHealth Push, Particularly For Healthcare Physicians

Pharmaceutical marketers are building mobile apps at a record pace, especially ones geared towards physicians, but experts warn that a lack of a disciplined strategic approach can lessen the chance of success.

Like with any mobile app in an ecosystem where 400,000+ apps already jam up the Apple App Store, discovery — or lack thereof — has become a major problem.  Some 10K+ mHealth apps already exist and pharma companies are ramping up their efforts considerably.  Ernst and Young reports that drug companies spent 78% more last year launching projects that use technology to improve patient health — half of which being mobile health apps, compared with just 16% previously.

In an article on Adotas, Michael Maher, a digital, healthcare, and direct marketer outlined a few important steps pharma marketers need to take into account when launching mobile app initiatives.  The first of which is the importance of starting with a mobile-optimized Website.  “Before considering an app, first optimize brand and disease sites for mobile, ensuring the most valuable content is fully accessible,” said Maher.  “Only after core information, content, and functionality are mobile-friendly is it time to think about apps.”

He also stresses the importance of targeting physician apps over consumer apps in the beginning, given that smartphone and tablet adoption is accelerating much more quickly with healthcare physicians.  In fact, recent research pegs HCP smartphone penetration at 81%, with half using at least one medical app professionally.  iPad ownership among physicians is already at 30%, with an additional 38% planning to purchase by Q4, 2011.  “HCP app strategies ought to prioritize mobile-engaged specialties, such as Physician Assistants and ER docs, who have the highest mobile use at 40%, vs. Oncologists and Clinical Pathologists, where only 20% and 16%, respectively, use mobile,” he said.

Lastly, Maher explains the importance of leveraging the most influential opportunities when it comes to pharma apps.  Half of physician smartphone users already utilize drug reference apps, for example, and one-third conduct mobile CME.  PwC reports 57% of HCPs want mobile devices to monitor patients remotely, supported by 31% of consumers who would allow apps to track personal health.  This isn’t to say current pharma apps don’t leverage the right opportunities — Merck’s Vree for Diabetes helps type 2 diabetes patients track blood sugar, medications, nutrition intake and activity levels, for instance, while Sanofi’s AFib Educator helps HCPs explain the disease to patients.  Others innovate in new areas, like GSK/ MedTrust’s Cancertrials App, which helps HCPs locate clinical trials for experimental therapies.

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