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Pharma Futures – The true integration of mobile medical apps

Senior Director, Social Media

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Recently the FDA released its final guidance on mobile medical applications (MMAs) and it was good news for healthcare marketers in that the FDA indicated it would not be making simple reminder or tracking apps navigate the 510(k) device review process. However, that may not be the biggest issue facing healthcare companies regarding mobile apps.

Will there be investment?

With the advent of the “prescribed app” companies are starting to see revenue opportunities tied to mobile applications running on consumer-grade devices, but the innovation isn’t coming from the traditional healthcare companies, it’s coming from mobile app companies that are moving into healthcare. VCs on both coasts are investing in startups and building incubators looking for that next big thing in the healthcare space.

The math is simple, if a clinical benefit can be shown then invest if:

Result (app) is > Result (Rx), taking into account the cost of the app vs. Rx therapy, of course.

That’s not the only model, however. If the app is marketed as an adjunct to a prescription drug then as long as its expected clinical benefit is greater than the cost then its possible it could be “on formulary” for the payers.

So far the jury is out on whether mobile apps will have the sustained clinical effects that will make them a contender for some of the relevant disease states (obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, smoking cessation, just to name a few). However, business prudence would dictate that healthcare companies look carefully at mobile, not from a marketing perspective, but from a therapeutic one.

Will therapeutic apps be accepted in the market?

The question about whether therapeutic apps will be accepted in the market is big and multi-dimensional. The challenges and opportunities break down like so:

Challenges Opportunities
The “do no harm” doctrine makes physicians naturally resistant to new therapies, especially when evidence for the current mobile apps is scarce or nonexistent. Physicians love the idea of a therapy that “does no harm” and mobile apps certainly seem to fit that model.
Until they prove themselves apps will be put in the same category of homeopathic therapies, i.e. placebo effect only. Adoption of mobile technology, especially Apple iOS devices, is very high among doctors, so they are familiar with the experience and can try it out before recommending to patients.
(Nearly) Everyone can take a pill or get a shot, but not everyone has a mobile device capable of running the apps and doctors do not want to play the role of tech support if the app fails. Some work is ongoing to prove the benefit of mobile medical apps and initial products like WellDoc’s prescribable (and compensated) diabetes management app.
If apps generate a lot of data, doctors can become concerned about the time required to review it. Scrolling through pages and pages of data and notes is too time consuming for busy HCPs.

What do app providers need to consider?

Based on the issues above, app developers would be well advised to follow three paths:

Seek clinical proof

Run the studies required to prove that apps have clinical benefit. The money spent on these studies will pay itself back in physician-directed app uptake.

Start with iOS

While Android is as popular in terms of real usage as iOS, the physician market is familiar with the Apple products and will be more likely to recommend Apple apps than Android.

Make Android like iOS

As an adjunct to this rule, make any Android apps similar to the Apple apps where possible so the physicians can be confident in what they are prescribing to patients.

Follow up with payors

The WellDoc example shows that, with the right supporting data and pharmacoeconomics, apps can be compensated by insurance companies. The barriers may be high at first, but as insurers become more comfortable with the patient benefits provided by apps, the barriers should become easier.

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Brad Einarsen

Brad is Klick's Senior Director leading the social practice. His group ensures that clients get the best bang for their buck on the social platforms.

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