Pharma Hotlist: Apps are Good Medicine

February 23, 2021

In an ongoing series, Q&A sessions with media experts from CMI/Compas explore what pharma needs to know about how physicians are using apps in their practice.

An app – short for application – is software, typically small and specialized, that runs on mobile devices, although they can be found on most digital platforms. Kelly McFadden, Media Supervisor, Communications Media, Inc. sat with colleague Theresa Heintz, Sr. Associate, Strategic Marketing & Corporate Communications, CMI/Compas, to discuss apps and how pharma can learn from current trends:

TH: What is the current landscape in apps?

KM: In the digital world we now live in, apps are everywhere. Apps are used not only on mobile phones, but also on desktops, laptops, tablets, and wearable devices, making these tools much more accessible to patients and caregivers. This paradigm shift has started to empower patients to take a more active role in their health management.

Interesting to note, however, is that there are over 40,000 medical apps available in the Apple store alone. Many are simple tracking tools for patients, but about 31% of these apps are intended for physicians to use in a clinical setting.

According to mHealth App Developer Economics 2014, on average, each of the leading Pharma companies has 60 apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play. If a brand wants to create or sponsor an app, they will also need a plan to promote it to the intended audience, or the app will become lost among competitors.

The iPhone is the dominant platform used by physicians, with 48.2% accessing apps through their phone, with the iPad as the second choice. In fact, Apple has integrated a Health app into their latest iOS, which integrates information from multiple other apps to display in a simple dashboard, useful for patients tracking their health.

According to Manhattan Research, 95 million Americans used their mobile phones to access healthcare tools or to search for healthcare information in 2013, a 27% increase over 2012.  It is clear that smartphones and tablets have brought convenience, accessibility, and privacy to patients as they manage their condition.

TH: What should pharma know about apps?

KM: They need to recognize that everyone is a patient, everyone has an HCP, everyone goes to the doctor, and everyone’s using their phone. Geo-targeting can bring a brand message to patients when they’re at the point of care, when they have opted-in to receive location-based messages in apps they are already using. Geo-targeting can get as granular as a specific aisle in a pharmacy, so if a patient is in the cold remedy aisle they could be alerted that there is a coupon for Tylenol® for that day. Brands can reach patients when they’re looking up content that is relevant to what the brand is trying to communicate. Targeting can be based on audience demographics. There’s different ways to target based on pharmaceutical products, such as diabetes treatments. Someone who has to test their blood sugar can monitor progress in an app, bring it to their doctor at their next appointment, and the app will show the doctor how they’re doing – and a brand message can be part of the experience. In a way it helps make treatment adherence productive and could result in better health outcomes.

TH: How are doctors using apps with and for their patients?

KM: The biggest consumer apps across the health industry are fitness trackers, and HCPs are taking note. HCPs are even “prescribing” them as a health regimen for their patients. The integration of digital apps and health is huge for the pharma industry because it allows the HCPs to reach the patient when they want to be reached. 39% of physicians surveyed in CMI’s 2014 Media Vitals™ What Prescribers Want and Need From Pharma:  A Look Across 10 Specialties report feel wearable technologies and apps can help manage the health of their patient populations.

But it isn’t just patients that use apps ­–in their practice, 40% of physicians feel drug reference apps are extremely or somewhat important to clinical decisions, with 54% choosing Epocrates as their go-to app.

TH: What’s trending in apps for pharma?

KM: Apps that deal with compliance, tracking capabilities, and knowing how the patient is doing on a day-to-day basis. For instance, for patients going through chemo or radiation, it’s helpful to track symptoms in real time and then talk to their doctor about it. Real-time tracking is what’s hot in pharma apps. They help the doctor help the patient the best way that they can.

TH: Are apps changing the landscape of how marketers are reaching their target audiences?

KM: Apps are slowly changing the landscape of how marketers are reaching their audiences – both HCP and patient/consumer. However, while many pharma companies are creating apps, they are having some trouble gaining traction because there are so many choices available.

A pharma brand needs to define their goal and the metrics that will measure success. Often “engagement” is part of the discussion – but what is engagement for your brand? Time spent? Registration? Prescribing the app? An app must help achieve goals like increasing scripts, through savings card redemptions, for example, in order for the app to be relevant in the marketing mix.

When considering apps as part of your brand’s promotion, create or sponsor an app that is easy to use for patients, integrates into workflow for physicians, and doesn’t force branding into the experience with a heavy hand. The key to adoption is value that satisfies a need.