Lessons from m.15: Why Health Apps Fail

There are 165,000 healthcare apps, yet only 36 of them make up 50% of the downloads.

That opening statement made marketers who gathered at Google’s Mountain View California Headquarters for m.15, a day-long summit themed “Your Connected Health Experience,” sit up and take notice.  Throughout the day, the blue-chip speakers and panels of influencers from Harvard Medical School, Kleiner Perkins, UCSF, One Drop, Ayogo, Gotta Mobilize, and PlushCare, among others, had plenty to say about apps and the reasons they fail.

First, both healthcare companies and technology entrepreneurs agreed that apps are essential to the empowered patient and better health outcomes.  A growing number of consumers want to access, generate and use data for self care, and they need apps that can help them make health and wellness choices, adhere to treatments, collect their personal health data, and share information with healthcare professionals. Additionally, some marketers have already discovered that apps are a valuable addition to the marketing mix. So why don’t they use them?

  1. Features have to be baked in, not tacked on.  In order for apps to be useful, they need to have a value-based proposition.  They’re not just an extension of a website or a glorified text message.  Apps need to be engaging and meaningful to be effective and address the “consumer” psyche, not merely the “patient.”
  2. Are you speaking their language?  Avoid the jargon and the boisterous claims.  Your app should be conversational, like a smart friend.
  3. Empowerment is the goal, not just engagement.  Certainly, if an app is not engaging, it’s not going to have any effect – but the apps that are downloaded and depended upon are those that help people manage their self-care.  OneDrop, for example, is a data-driven app that helps more than 500 million users with diabetes log and share their information.  All their stats are in one place, and they can share and learn from everyone else on the platform.
  4. Apps have to work today, not only tomorrow.  By learning and observing how both doctors and patients are seeking connectivity, developers are studying familiar experiences that can be replicated, used or brought to life.  The new development model is an integrated approach that can fit into the traditional workflow of healthcare professionals, while being relevant and meaningful for consumers.

When it comes to apps, play is important, but it’s more important to give consumers tools that will help them manage their own health, wellness or disease condition.  As marketing partners, we have the power to change the consumer’s healthcare experience by considering these few, simple tips. Apps are a valuable and underutilized tool in the marketer’s playbook. They will become essential to developing strong relationships with consumers and healthcare professionals, alike. More than traditional advertising, apps enable pharma and other healthcare marketers to provide a valuable service and become indispensable to consumers. The right app is the relationship tool and brand or product extension that many have been missing in the marketing mix.