The news recently has been full of stories about mobile apps that can be prescribed and that are being adopted by both HCPs and insurance companies. When it comes to healthcare and mobile the linkage is indisputable, Manhattan Research’s Mobile Health Trends for 2012 shows it, PEW’s The Social Life of Health Information, 2011 shows it. Just using a mobile device is no longer for early adopters, the early majority is in on it. The next wave of change in this space is the ability for physicians to prescribe apps.
There have been two stories recently that point to this change. The most important one is reported by the good folks over at MobiHealthNews (based on a story in the NYT): WellDoc’s DiabetesManager is being reimbursed at a rate of $100 per month by two, as yet unnamed, insurance companies. The second is a game designed to treat ADHD that is looking for FDA approval to try and get the game registered as a medical therapy. This really isn’t so far fetched, especially considering the FDA’s draft guidance on mobile medical apps that dictates which ones need approval.
These two stories are leading indicators that apps will become medical therapies under the FDA in the not too distant future. So, how can biopharma get in on this?
- Expand the definition of “therapy”. A therapy should be anything that achieves the desired result, whether the mechanism of action is molecule interactions in the body or action inspired by feedback from a mobile device.
- Include Marketing in the initial R&D. This breaks one of the historical silos in biopharma companies, but it needs to be done (there will be some regulatory challenges with doing this). The marketing folks know what mobile apps gain traction, and this is the first step in finding ways to use persuasive design to achieve the therapeutic goals.
- Break away from thinking of apps as games. It is easy to look at smartphones and tablets as just entertainment devices. They are used for that, but the potential engagement is so high, and the barriers to access so low, that they also make perfect behavior-change devices.
- Price against benefits, not other apps. Health apps sell for an average of $2.20 in the Apple App store, but this price level isn’t going to support ROI for development. Instead, product developers need to look at the financial benefit of the app in adherence and avoided healthcare costs. That is almost certainly how WellDoc priced their $100 DiabetesManager app for the insurers who are paying for it.
- Get in now. It won’t be long before the insurance companies are building their own apps that promote behavior change. Kaiser Permanente has already launched a health records app and this could become a great platform for encouraging behavior change based on known adherence and other inputs.
This is a big topic. What do you think about biopharma getting into the app game in a big way? Can it benefit patients and their outcomes?