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Mobile App Study Provides Useful Lessons for The Broader Adherence Toolset

In late October, IMS Health released a comprehensive report assessing the effectiveness of mobile applications intended to help deliver improved health outcomes. Ultimately, they concluded that “the vast majority of available apps have limited functionality or evidence of value in advancing healthcare provision and outcomes.” Even more eye-opening were some of the statistics they reported:

  • Of the 40,000+ healthcare apps available for download from the U.S. Apple iTunes app store, 23,682 of can be considered “genuine healthcare apps.”
  • Nearly 1/3 of these apps are geared towards healthcare providers, with the rest intended for consumers.
  • Half of the available apps were downloaded fewer than 500 times.
  • 5 apps account for 15% of downloads.
  • 90% scored less than 40 (out of 100) for functionality.

Apps are just one of a myriad of tools and resources that pharma brands make available to patients and providers to drive improved outcomes. One could actually argue that IMS’ findings and recommendations have universal relevance. Indeed, poor adherence continues to produce a sizeable chunk of avoidable healthcare costs, which they estimate to be as high as $105B. Despite significant investment in solutions, this statistic speaks to the need for brands to re-evaluate the old approaches.  IMS’s report offers a lens through which we can make these evaluations. 

One example of a broadly relevant finding is that “few apps are designed to address areas of greatest need,” particularly individuals 65+ suffering from multiple chronic diseases. While the lower rates of smartphone ownership among the older demographic is certainly applicable in this case, the reality is that dealing with multiple conditions is overwhelming in and of itself, without layering on a multitude of apps that only address one condition. This holds true whether we’re talking about apps or other adherence tools and resources (e.g., refill reminders, guidance on managing side effects, etc.), many of which are digital in nature. Individuals with diabetes – which is co-morbid with other conditions – are typically treated with multiple medications and it is unrealistic to expect them to opt in to multiple adherence programs offered by manufacturers. As such, pharma must develop solutions that are patient centric rather than product centric.

IMS’ recommendations on promoting greater adoption of apps are also applicable to the broader adherence programs that are ubiquitous and often indistinguishable across brands. Along with apps, these programs typically aren’t recommended or endorsed by payers or providers, even when a brand has evidence of improved adherence. The good news is that the shifting focus on outcomes that was brought about by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will motivate manufacturers to up their game, both in terms of redesigning their programs to better meet the needs of stakeholders, and in the design of studies that produce solid evidence of their ability to produce meaningful patient outcomes. Additional momentum will come from the industry’s ability to harness “Big Data.”  As my colleagues Kent Groves and Croom Lawrence note in their recent whitepaper, Reinventing Medication Adherence in the Digital Age, we are in the midst of “a new breakout period for adherence marketers…being powered right now by new technologies” and that “the next generation of adherence marketing will be unlocked by organizations that can envision and execute…programs that ensure individualized care and address personal barriers to non-compliance.” 

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